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Another closure for Port McNeill ER this weekend

ER closure is the latest in a string of closures in North Island hospitals since the spring that health officials don’t foresee ending any time soon
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The emergency room closure at Port McNeill and District Hospital, the result of a staffing shortage, began late afternoon Friday and continues until 7 a.m. Monday. VIA GOOGLE STREET VIEW

Port McNeill Hospital’s ­emergency department will be temporarily closed until Monday morning, the latest in a string of closings at North Island hospitals since the spring that officials don’t foresee ending any time soon.

The closing, the result of a staffing shortage, began late afternoon Friday and continues until 7 a.m. Monday.

During that period, anyone experiencing a medical emergency is advised by Island Health to call 911 or go to Port Hardy Hospital’s ER, about a 30-minute drive from Port McNeill. Last weekend, it was Port Hardy Hospital’s ER that was closed.

All other in-patient services will continue during the closure period.

On Thursday, Port McNeill family physician Dr. Prean Armogam wrote to Island Health to again request sharing of ­physician resources amid the ongoing closings and absence of a formal regional plan.

“Are there valid reasons why Port McNeill or Port Hardy ­cannot be the designated ­emergency site with 12-hour shifts that include all the regional physicians willing to participate?” asked Armogam in an email dated Sept. 8.

“Given the impacts on Alert Bay and the Port Hardy ­closures, it would appear that Port McNeill is the logical site at least as an interim measure while staffing and ­administration can be improved.”

Armogam, who has raised alarm bells about staffing ­shortages in the region on several occasions, said discussions are ongoing “while the crisis continues,” and an established task force appears to be just one more attempt by senior officials to placate physicians rather than make hard decisions.

Port Alice family physician Dr. Nicole Bennett-Boutilier, medical director for Mount Waddington-Strathcona, said in a memo to Port Hardy and Port McNeill physicians on Thursday that ER closures and ­reductions in service are expected to ­continue due to ongoing staff shortages.

Bennett-Boutilier thanked clinicians for their flexibility “as we navigate this difficult ­terrain, and try to continuously co-ordinate the many pieces.”

The health authority continues to review rollouts of more predictable closures, said Bennett-Boutilier, “but as you know there are several instances where we remain only one sick call shy of an empty nursing line or in some instances without physician coverage.”

Bennett-Boutilier said there is no official expectation that physicians will cover neighbouring communities, “but this is encouraged when the need arises.”

“We will continue to leave this up to individual physicians impacted by a closure to ­communicate directly as to how they would/could be willing to extend,” she wrote.

The health authority is ­looking at how to ­compensate physicians who cover ­neighbouring communities for travel costs. Family-friendly housing has also been secured in both Port McNeill and Port Hardy for travelling doctors.

Patients unsure whether their medical situation requires a visit to a hospital ER are advised to call 811 to receive confidential advice from a registered nurse at any time of the day, seven days a week, toll free.

ceharnett@timescolonist.com

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