ASHCROFT - A doctor shortage in Ashcroft is diminishing emergency room hours, leaving patients no choice but to either call 9-1-1 or travel over an hour to Kamloops or Merritt in the event of an emergency.
Administrators at Interior Health Authority cut hours this week after one of the two doctors in town quit last month. If a new hire isn’t made by June, the emergency room will only be open on weekends.
Berni Easson, an administrator for rural locations, says the story isn’t a new one; many communities are struggling to hold on to physicians while the government rallies recruitment.
“Recruitment efforts have been going on in the rural communities non-stop. We are always trying to find physicians who are eager to come,” she says.
As the province scouts for staff, village residents are coming forward with complaints and are worried their level of care will dwindle.
“We’ve been receiving a number of calls, not only myself but also the patient quality care office where people are expressing their very sincere concerns,” Easson says. "We have heard some concerns which were unfounded. They’re saying it’s a complete closure… that is totally untrue."
Ashcroft Mayor John Jeyes says he remains “ever hopeful” Interior Health’s recruitment efforts will pay off and add more physicians to the roster rather than relying on doctors who occasionally travel to his community to help out.
“Obviously we’re very disappointed and concerned for the residents. We’re in the same boat as many other communities. I know they’re constantly looking for doctors to come down here,” he says.
Patients are travelling to Merritt and Kamloops in emergency situations, or relying on paramedic services by calling 9-1-1. Easson says it adds pressure to nearby emergency rooms already facilitating the needs of other rural communities, like Logan Lake which has no doctors at all.
"There is an impact for sure to surrounding areas. We recognize emergency room usage is unpredictable to a degree,” Easson says, adding people should call Health Link B.C. by dialing 8-1-1 instead of using the ER as a walk-in clinic.
While Ashcroft and Logan Lake are considered ‘communities in crisis’ by Interior Health, Easson says other rural locations could face the same label.
“Some of the small communities (have) enough (doctors), but if one were to leave it would become a community in crisis as well. We always start to prioritize when others are a little bit more stabilized. We never want to become complacent,” she says.
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