A petition regarding concerns about local health care garnered more than 1,800 signatures on paper and more than 600 signatures on an electronic version, and the results have now been presented to Fraser-Nicola MLA Jackie Tegart and sent to Health Minister Adrian Dix and Interior Health (IH) President and CEO Susan Brown.
The petition was conducted by the Healthcare and Wellness Coalition (HWC; previously known as WHAC), and was intended to give a voice to area residents worried about the future of health care services at the Ashcroft and District Hospital/Health Site.
The first paragraph of the petition reads “The people of our 4 towns (Ashcroft, Cache Creek, Clinton and Spences Bridge) TNRD electoral area I and E, and 6 First Nation communities (Ashcroft Cornwall, Bonaparte, Cooks Ferry, High Bar, Oregon Jack Creek and Skeetchestn) implore Interior Health to make recruitment of all staff required to maintain our emergency services in the Ashcroft & District Hospital/Health Site, a priority.”
The population of the catchment area for the Ashcroft Hospital is approximately 9,000, meaning that 37 per cent of the people in the area signed the petition. Sheila Corneillie, chair of the HWC, says that the reception from Tegart was very positive.
“She was very supportive, signed the petition, and said that she will take it to the Legislature and deliver it there. She is going to meet with us again to figure out a strategy so that we know how to reach the people we need to reach within Interior Health and the Province.”
Several recent partial closures of the emergency department at the Ashcroft Hospital—six since January 2019, with three in May—have been caused by a nursing shortage at the hospital. The ED is scheduled to be open from 6 p.m. Friday to 8 a.m. Monday, and while IH has been attempting to fill the nursing positions, Corneillie says that potential employees are saying that weekend-only work is not attractive to them.
“The community keeps being told that [the closures] are only temporary, but there’s no evidence that Interior Health is trying to resolve this. The service keeps declining. A complete closure of the emergency department is what the community is afraid of.
“The reduced hours at the emergency department started with lack of physicians, and there were Band-aid solutions for that. The focus was on physicians, but in the meantime the nursing staff has been getting smaller, through attrition or for other reasons.”
Corneillie says that as members of the HWC met with community members over the course of signing the petition, they heard many stories about the effects of having the Ashcroft emergency department closed, or open inconsistent hours.
“People don’t know when it’s open, and the ramifications of this are heartbreaking. When people are unsure about which emergency department they should go to, they’ll often just get into their vehicle and go. BC Emergency Health services [paramedics] are often being called to highway locations to meet vehicles. People aren’t sure whether to try for Ashcroft or wait for an ambulance, so they get in their vehicle.”
Corneillie says that it’s not about finding one doctor or one nurse; it’s about finding staff who can use the full scope of their practice.
“It’s a long-term strategy. We’re using Princeton as a guide for what we’d like things to look like. They addressed things long-term, and have five physicians, a full nursing staff, a locum program, but they still meet monthly, because this is an ongoing thing. They realize they can’t just stop.”