The 24-hour closure of the Elkford emergency department (ED) last week has been described as an “unusual situation”.
On Tuesday, July 10, Interior Health issued advice stating Elkford Health Centre would not be able offer emergency department services that day due to a shortage of nurses.
Residents requiring urgent care were advised to call 9-1-1 or travel to Sparwood or Fernie, between 25 and 50 minutes away.
According to Interior Health, one person visited the health centre during the closure but did not require urgent care and arranged to return when the emergency department reopened the following day.
Elkford mayor Dean McKerracher said the unexpected closure was concerning.
“It’s always a concern when there are no emergency services or healthcare in the community, but it’s not under our control,” he said.
The ED is staffed by two permanent nursing staff with multiple casual staff who fill in, according to Interior Health community manager Christine Neal.
Five physicians support ED patients and share the equivalent of two full-time positions dedicated to the facility.
“The last time the ED closed due to staffing was August 9, 2016,” said Neal.
“We have a great group of dedicated nurses in Elkford and Tuesday was an unusual situation.”
While all positions are currently filled, Neal says Interior Health is always recruiting new casual staff to cover shifts when permanent staff are on vacation or away for other reasons.
McKerracher, who is chair of the Kootenay East Regional Hospital District Board, would like to see emergency services in Elkford expanded.
Currently, the emergency department operates from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday to Friday.
Residents who require urgent care outside of those hours have to drive to Sparwood or Fernie.
“I would love to see emergency services seven days a week as we used to have – eight hours a day at least minimum – but we lost that quite a few years ago now,” said McKerracher.
“Until we have more residents and more need for the service, we will not get more services.”