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Kamloops News

How Interior Health is planning to tackle RIH understaffing issues

Susan Brown, President and CEO of Interior Health.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/Interior Health

An Interior Health vice-president has relocated to Kamloops and its president and CEO, Susan Brown, is taking direct responsibility for resolving the ongoing staff shortages at Royal Inland Hospital.

This follows ongoing stories from and complaints from Kamloops MLAs about shortages that have forced the health authority to put out urgent calls for staff to come from other areas to help out, not only on the May long weekend but going forward.

READ MORE: Interior Health calling out-of-town healthcare staff to help at Kamloops hospital

It also follows meetings with nursing staff yesterday and physicians earlier.

“I very much appreciated how thoughtful and organized the nurses were,” Brown told today, May 27. “We spoke with quite a few yesterday and they came with some great ideas so we’re into action on those. It will be my job to ensure follow-up and follow-through.”

Kamloops Liberal MLAs Todd Stone and Peter Milobar held a press conference yesterday outlining staffing shortfalls at the hospital over the long weekend.

READ MORE: Kamloops ER had less than 50% staffing on long weekend: B.C. Liberals

Brown could not say if those specific numbers – such as 40% staffing levels in the Royal Inland emergency room on Friday, May 20 – were accurate for particular units.

She did say that, when a unit is short-staffed, people are shifted from other departments.

“What I did hear from the staff yesterday is that redeployment from one unit to another is stressful on them so we need to look at ways of resolving that quickly,” Brown said. “There will be ongoing conversations with the physicians and the nurses at the site around how we approach that.”

Diane Shendruk, vice-president of clinical operations for Interior Health’s northern division, has relocated to Kamloops as part of the ongoing efforts to address long-standing staff shortages.

“She will be very present at the hospital which was quite welcomed by all the parties,” Brown said.

Some nurses have said that staffing shortages date back to 2015 when there were management changes.

READ MORE: Former nurse at Kamloops hospital takes aim at upper management

Brown would not say if that triggered the shortages.

“Definitely, there have been some ongoing challenges at the site,” she said. “I think the date you went back to was 2015. Over the last few years the shortages have continued and worsened. I think we’re going to extraordinary measures to support the site.”

Last weekend, more than 20 staff came from other areas of Interior Health to help out and at least 14 are committed for this coming weekend.

Brown could not say how many positions need to be filled but the Liberal MLAs said there are 406 vacant shifts between May 26 and June 25.

While COVID, wildfire and floods contributed to staff shortages, she also pointed to other factors.

READ MORE: IHA blames Kamloops understaffing on COVID, but nurses, MLAs say roots go deeper

“There have been a number of different projects at the site that also take quite a bit of energy from front line staff, physicians and leadership,” Brown said. “With the new tower going there, it takes a lot of clinical support.”

Staffing shortages are not unique to the healthcare industry or to Kamloops, she noted. Kelowna General Hospital also experiences shortages and some small health care facilities have been forced into partial closures.

For example, Clearwater’s emergency department closed overnight Wednesday.

Such closures don’t impact Royal Inland only. If patients have to be relocated, they may go to other hospitals, like Vernon, she said.

“Staff are worried and we share their concern,” Brown said. “We want to ensure that we’re doing everything we can to support patient care there and that will be my continued focus. The most important thing, for me right now, is ensuring good patient care as well as supporting the staff with retention efforts.”

To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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