IHA blames Kamloops understaffing on COVID, but nurses, MLAs say roots go deeper | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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

Royal Inland Hospital.

If you ask Interior Health why Royal Inland Hospital has been understaffed, they officially blame the COVID-19 pandemic, wildfires and floods.

Those disasters have put added pressure on healthcare workers at the hospital, both for their mental health and workload.

But nurses and local politicians say the staffing crisis dates back well before the beginning of the worldwide pandemic. Instead, some nurses point to a toxic work environment, shift changes that leave too few nurses on a floor with too many patients, along with management that appears unsympathetic to their concerns.

"This hasn't unfolded over just the last month or just the last year. This hasn't unfolded just during the COVID pandemic, or as the Minister of Health has often, and I think quite inaccurately, suggested because of wildfires and because of floods," MLA Todd Stone said. "The situation at Royal Inland Hospital has been worsening over the last four to five years, and it will continue to get worse if action isn't taken to make it better."

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

The MLAs said they met with nurses and doctors in Kamloops and heard their complaints. 

"The minister needs to step in immediately and take action, or the premier needs to step in and find a minister that will," Milobar said at a press conference today, May 26.

Stone said he's "lost faith" in Interior Health's ability to address the concerns of both staff and patients.

With less than half the needed staff filling some Royal Inland Hospital departments over the May long weekend, nurses and other healthcare workers are stressed and tired.

In an attempt to address frustrated and angry hospital staff at Royal Inland, health authority CEO Susan Brown stopped by the Kamloops hospital to hear them out. Hundreds met with her in two separate meetings today, May 26.

"I think right now we as a group are frustrated. I hope this brings us hope," one nurse said following the meeting.

A Royal Inland Hospital nurse told iNFOnews.ca earlier this month the health authority has been neglecting its employees for years before the COVID-19 pandemic.

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

“The culture of bullying, lack of appreciation, and lack of support has existed for many, many years, COVID has just pushed people to the point where they can’t deal with it anymore,” she said. “Putting the blame on things like vaccine mandates for lack of staffing neglects to address the real problems that have been ongoing.”

The anonymous nurse said Royal Inland staff would often compare staffing levels at Kelowna General Hospital in years before COVID. They would look in "disbelief" at how much more staff the Kelowna hospital got funding for.

"When we asked a former director why can't we have safe ratios like Kelowna we were told ‘don’t compare yourself to Kelowna,’" she said.

Another former nurse told iNFOnews.ca there were problems with hospital management all the way back to 2015 when new leadership arrived at Royal Inland Hospital.

“An upper manager at Royal Inland came in there in 2015 and changed everything around,” former employee Ian Goodwin said. “The manager bullied the nurses, changed staffing numbers and added more paperwork, taking us away from our patient’s bedside. There was consistent lack of transparency and communication with hospital staff.”

READ MORE: Dangerous staffing crisis at Kamloops hospital years in the making

After nurse walk-outs, periodic closures of hospital wards and a pandemic, both staff and local MLAs are pointing to Interior Health and hospital leadership to address human resources concerns at the hospital in order keep it afloat.

"It's hard to recruit, I would say, if you're having massive challenges retaining existing employees because of the toxic work environment and staff shortages," Stone acknowledged, adding that Interior Health should put as much attention into the Kamloops hospital as it does Kelowna General Hospital.

Despite claims of a "toxic" work environment and longstanding shortages from well before 2020, a top director for the Kamloops hospital told iNFOnews.ca the problems are rooted in the COVID-19 pandemic, which left healthcare across the province struggling.

Tracey Rannie, the director of clinical operations at the hospital, pointed to floods and fires as major "stressors" on the tertiary hospital, along with the COVID-19 pandemic.

'We’re working really hard on recruitment. Interior Health has committed to taking every possible step to address the current staffing pressures," Rannie said. "One thing that we do have to look forward to is a new investment here. We have a beautiful new (Patient Care Tower)."

There is a consistent one nurse to eight patients ratio at the Kamloops hospital currently, often jumping to ten or more patients per nurse, according to Milobar and Stone. Normally, it should safely operate at a four patient to one nurse ratio.

At the May 26 press conference, Milobar added that consistent closures at rural emergency rooms and the total lack of any walk-in clinics in Kamloops creates a ripple effect, forcing patients to head to the Royal Inland emergency room when they normally would not need to.

The two MLAs pleaded for Health Minister Adrian Dix to take "immediate" steps to address the ongoing issues at one of the Interior's largest hospitals, since they have lost confidence in Interior Health's ability to do so on its own.

"We're calling for Adrian Dix to step up today. Not next week, not next month, not next year..." Stone said. "And if he's not up to the task, then he should be replaced with a new health minister."

— With notes from Rob Munro and Shannon Ainslie.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Levi Landry or call 250-819-3723 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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