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Port McNeill closes ER overnight Friday due to nurse shortage, diverts patients to Port Hardy

Emergency department at Port McNeill hospital closed 7 p.m. Friday to 7 a.m. Saturday; patients being diverted to Port Hardy
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Port McNeill and District Hospital. Anyone experiencing a medical emergency before the hospital reopens at 7 a.m. Monday is advised to call 911 or go to Port Hardy Hospital. VIA GOOGLE STREET VIEW

Port McNeill Hospital is closing its emergency department overnight for 12 hours due to a nursing shortage and is diverting people to Port Hardy hospital.

The emergency department will be closed from 7 p.m. Friday until 7 a.m. Saturday. No new patients will be admitted during this period.

The last diversion occurred two weeks ago during the May 14-15 weekend, also because of a nursing shortage.

Anyone experiencing a medical emergency is advised to call 911 or, if possible, proceed to Port Hardy Hospital, said Island Health in a news release.

Island Health said with B.C. Emergency Health Services it has protocols to ensure patients are transported to the appropriate site.

Those unsure of the urgency of their medical situation can call for confidential health information and advice from a registered nurse toll free via HealthLink BC at 811.

Island Health said it was notified on Friday afternoon that there was unexpectedly not enough nurses to cover the 12 hours.

During the most recent diversion, B.C. Nurses’ Union vice-president Adriane Gear said in rural areas such as Port McNeill and Port Hardy, even one nurse down can be too many and it’s a two-hour drive to the hospital in Campbell River, where nursing shortages are also a challenge.

At Port McNeill and District Hospital, there are two registered nurses as a baseline, said Gear, and they have been asking for a third for some time.

It’s a crisis throughout the province that Gear doesn’t see getting better any time soon.

In February the province announced it is adding 602 new nurse-training seats to public post-secondary institutions — in addition to about 2,000 existing seats — in a move the B.C. Nurses’ Union called a “promising step.”

The 602 new spaces include seats for 362 registered nurses, 40 registered psychiatric nurses, 20 nurse practitioners and 180 licensed practical nurses. There’s also a drive to train current nurses to a higher level of practice — licensed practical nurses to registered nurses and registered nurses to nurse practitioners, for instance.

Funding for the initiative comes from $96 million committed over three years as part of last year’s budget to expand post-secondary education and training capacity for health professionals.

“It’s going to take many initiatives and it’s going to take some time before we’re going to see some improvement,” said Gear, a former union representative for the Island.

Gear said the shortage of family doctors also has an impact on nurses because patients who didn’t get primary care —especially during the pandemic — are ending up in hospital with complications from manageable diseases or diseases that could have been caught with proper screening.

Port McNeill and District Hospital was closed to admissions and emergency visits during the first weekend in March, after one of its three doctors called in sick.

ceharnett@timescolonist.com