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Nurses union alarmed by Creston ER closures

The BC Nurses Union says it’s concerned about the potential for more emergency room closures at Creston Valley Hospital.

The local ER twice closed overnight in the last month due to staffing shortages, and the union fears it will continue to happen unless immediate measures are taken to recruit and retain nurses.

Vice-president Adriane Gear was in Creston on Tuesday to meet with members.

“We’re worried they’re not able to provide appropriate care to patients because there’s just not enough nurses,” she said.

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In the instances where the Creston ER was closed, the alternative for patients was to travel to the hospital in Cranbrook.

“That’s a long drive if you’re having chest pain or some other symptoms that are really concerning,” Gear said. “Time matters in an emergency and that is not a satisfactory contingency plan from the nurses plan.”

Gear said Creston faces the same nursing shortage as elsewhere in the province, country, and even internationally, but she said it was “maddening” that more was not done to get ahead of the problem.

She said some government initiatives are now underway, but that it will take time to see any benefit. In the meantime, she wants to ensure that current nurses are retained.

“I spoke to several nurses in Creston whose mental and physical health has been impacted,” she said. “They’re reporting anxiety because they simply cannot provide the care that’s required and they find themselves in a situation where they’re mandated to work copious amounts of overtime, and they just can’t do it anymore.”

Gear said around the province, they have heard from nurses who are retiring at the earliest possible date, rather than sticking around another two to five years. New grads are also entering the profession and not feeling supported, she said.

“If we don’t do something right now to retain the nurses that are here, we’re going to be in a worse situation. We would ask that the health authorities and government really put their minds together and talk to nurses about what would keep them.”

Gear said many nurses are also leaving to work for private agencies because it offers a better work-life balance, where they can’t be redeployed to another facility or forced to work overtime.

She added that nurses in Creston told her that over the next 12 weeks, there are 176 unfilled shifts, raising the prospect of further ER closures. Most of the time, she said, they are working short, meaning each nurse cares for twice as many patients as usual or more.

Today union representatives are in Cranbrook to speak with nurses at East Kootenay Regional Hospital, a facility it says is “buckling” under increased pressure due to staffing shortages.

On Thursday they plan to meet with local mayors, MLAs, and nursing leads to look for solutions.

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