By Vanessa Broadbent
Renovations to the South Okanagan General Hospital (SOGH), staffing shortages and the opioid crisis were addressed when Interior Health (IH) president and CEO Chris Mazurkewich visited SOGH on Friday morning.
Mazurkewich toured the hospital and met with staff and donors.
Previously, the emergency room in SOGH has seen temporary closures due to a lack of physicians, an issue raised when former cheif of staff Dr. Peter Entwistle resigned from his position in March. In 2017, from June 4-5 the department closed, as well as on August 13 for 17 hours.
Mazurkewich said that more doctors moving to Oliver has prevented closures from reoccurring.
“Four or five physicians came to the community and we’ve seen the emergency room open on a regular basis.”
He also said that IH is currently working with local physicians and the ministry of health on developing a new pay structure that will “make it easier to retain and attract physicians to work in the emergency room.”
“We’re waiting to see what the results of that will bring,” Mazurkewich said.
IH is also working with the BC Nurses Union on calculating the staffing level of nurses. Mazurkewich said IH executive is expecting a report in the next few weeks which will determine staffing needs and where shortages occur.
Emergency room expansion
IH announced that it has included expansions to the emergency room at SOGH in its 2018/2019 budget.
The renovations will include a new entrance to the emergency room, which Mazurkewich said will enhance privacy for patients, as well as a new waiting and triage area.
“The entrance into the emergency room will be changed and privacy within the emergency room will be done differently.”
Currently, IH is waiting for funding from the Okanagan Similkameen Regional Hospital District before the project moves forward.
Mazurkewich also addressed concerns of the hospital’s closure, saying that there are no plans to do so.
“Why would we ask the provincial government and local governments to spend a million dollars if we were thinking of closing it?” he said. “That doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.”
With the ongoing fentanyl crisis in B.C., IH is working to prevent overdose deaths, of which there were nine suspected in IH from January 23-27.
While mobile injection sites have been implemented, Mazurkewich said that IH is working on focusing on those using drugs in their homes.
“We’re seeing a lot more overdose within residence so we’re looking at how we help that population,” he said. “Some people will come to us but some won’t.”
Mazurkewich also touched on the need for wide-spread drug testing as well as decriminalization of illicit drugs.
“If we regulated it and cleaned it up, we’d see a much smaller death rate occurring. I’m convinced we would.”
With the death rate in IH jurisdiction increasing four times in the last two years, he said a new tactic is needed.
“If you ask me, at the death rate that we’re seeing within the province … I think what we’re doing today is inadequate and we need a whole different approach.
“If I knew the solution to this, I’d implement it right now.”