A memo sent to Bulkley Valley District Hospital staff has outlined ways a health care union official found shocking in efforts to keep its emergency room open in case of a physician shortage.
The letter, titled, “No physician BVDH ER Coverage Mitigation Plan,” included instructions to call family physicians and ask them to come to the hospital to take care of their patients should there be no doctor on shift.
It also said that nurses alone in the emergency department should provide comfort measures and some first aid or phone 911 if the person presenting is in immediate medical distress.
B.C. Nurses’ Union President Aman Grewal said she heard about this through the media and was shocked and left with many questions.
“This is just so bizarre to me that they would be saying for an ER to be calling 911,” she added.
She said the nurses and the union were left out of the communication and planning.
“Just imagine the psychological impact on a nurse who is already most likely going to be coming to a site that is short staffed, but now a key integral part of your team — the physician is missing, that is putting a lot of stress on our nurses in the fact that, you know, decisions that they may need to possibly make that are out of their scope of practice, that puts their licence on the line,” she said.
According to a Northern Health statement, Smithers has not experienced any recent emergency department closures and none are currently expected.
It said that every effort is being made to prevent emergency department service interruptions in the north, including at Bulkley Valley District Hospital and closes ERs only as a last resort.
“While language in recent correspondence to the Smithers clinician community about planning for potential diversions did not align directly with those protocols, we understand it was intended to inform care providers about the process for ensuring continuity of care hospital inpatients, or those who might present to the ED during a diversion,” the statement added.
“We will continue to work closely with the physician community and nursing staff in Smithers to prevent service interruptions to ensure patients continue to receive the best care possible while in hospital,” the statement continued.”
Northern Health did say the ambulance service is notified when ERs do close and that signs are put up at ER entrances telling people to phone 9-1-1 for transport to another facility.
“If a patient presents at an emergency department that is on diversion (closed), nursing staff will provide comfort, care, and coordinate appropriate transfer and transport,” the statement continued.