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Masset’s emergency department faces potential closures

The village’s council was kept in the dark until recently, mayor Sheri Disney said
The Northern Haida Gwaii Hospital and Health Centre in Masset, at the northern end of Haida Gwaii. (Photo: Kaitlyn Bailey/Haida Gwaii Observer)

The Masset hospital emergency department will likely face closures due to nursing and staff shortages, representatives from Northern Health said on Feb. 6.

The Northern Haida Gwaii Hospital is trying to avoid temporary closures by investigating the possibility of having travelling nurses fill the empty shifts, Ciro Panessa, Northern Health’s chief operating officer, told The Haida Gwaii Observer.

Panessa said he is particularly worried about the period from Feb. 13 to the end of March. In order to keep all of their services open, they need two nurses to be on staff and the schedule currently has holes to fill.

At this point, the health authority is considering two possible scenarios to respond to the staffing shortage. The first would be to close acute care in-patient beds at the hospital. The second would be to close the emergency room for chunks of time.

“It would make most sense that if we had to close the emergency room at any point, to do that in the evening or the wee hours because that’s when the least number of people would historically access the E.R.,” Panessa said.

The Village of Masset council first heard about the impending closures when a group of health professionals brought it to their attention near the end of January, Sheri Disney, mayor of Masset said.

“We had a presentation on Jan. 23 to council from some individuals who work behind the hospital doors letting us know they had been preparing for this to happen since December,” Disney said.

Following the meeting the village office sprung into action, reaching out to all channels and levels of management at Northern Health to get more information from the health authority, she said.

About a week later. on Jan. 31, they got the official word from Northern Health that potential closures were being planned.

During this meeting, when Northern Health originally talked to Masset’s council, they told them they were looking at closing the emergency room from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. and also potentially closing long-term care, Disney said.

However, a later announcement stated that there would not be any interruptions to long-term care.

“I started speaking quite publicly about it on Feb. 1,” Disney said. “And as soon as it was public then Northern Health started to kind of backtrack a little bit and said, ‘Oh, no, there’ll be no interruption to long-term care, we’re only looking at potentially there being a disruption to emergency services.’”

“I’ve also had reports back from some of the medical care team within the Northern Haida Gwaii Hospital saying that it was around the same time that there was a full 180 [degree turn] from the message of Northern Health to the workers at the hospital.”

Panessa said he connected with many leaders when he was on Haida Gwaii last August to discuss his worries around workforce instability and to talk about the work that was happening.

Although he acknowledged that some people wished he had spoken with them directly and earlier than he did.

“And that’s fair,” he said.

“I think it’s always trying to strike a balance. This has been something that’s been ongoing for some time. We actively problem-solve. There’s tremendous work by the local team and others to avoid any kind of interruption up to this point.”

The CAO said he thinks they are at the stage where the worry about continued services was becoming greater and there was need to re-engage with the community to express concern.

“… I think start a dialogue around how we could work together in a heightened way to try to respond and work together to stabilize the hospital.”

Disney believes it is a solvable problem and just needs more attention from the Northern Health administration to find a resolution.

Since hearing about the potential closures, she has been doing her own research into the issue. She said she has spoken to at least three different nurses who are part of the travel nurse program within Northern Health. The nurses told her that despite requesting the Northern Haida Gwaii Hospital, they were rerouted to the hospital at the southern end of the island.

“I think the south-end hospital has a hard time with staffing too, but if we’re the ones that are in dire need, it just doesn’t seem logical that they’re being rerouted to the south hospital,” she said.

If closures do occur, patients will be sent to Haida Gwaii Hospital (HGH) and Health Centre - Xaayda Gwaay Ngaaysdll Naayin in Daajing Giids, Panessa said.

They would start by adding two beds to the current four at the HGH as well as arranging non-emergency transportation. The transportation will be free of charge to help patients, their families, support people and staff travel between Masset and Daajing Giids, Northern Health stated.

“One of the things we’re being told is ‘Oh, don’t worry about it, it’s something that’s happening to everyone,’” Disney said.

She said she is “super worried” about the situation of budget cuts and hard-to-staff locations throughout the region.

“… As we quietly let things happen, then it will become more normal for us to try to make do with less and less. It seems like something that we should all be talking about and not just accepting.”

READ MORE: Emergency responders voice ambulance woes in Bella Coola and Haida Gwaii

 Kaitlyn Bailey | Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
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