By Lyonel Doherty
After much anticipation, the newly renovated emergency department at South Okanagan General Hospital (SOGH) was officially opened today.
Health Minister Adrian Dix was on hand this morning to help cut the ribbon with Osoyoos Indian Band elder Sherry Stelkia.
Dix said when he toured the hospital in 2017 he definitely saw the need to upgrade the emergency department.
The $1 million upgrade includes a new waiting and triage area, a quiet room for families and a separate emergency department entrance.
“It’s better for patients. It’s better for all the people that work here,” Dix said.
Among the upgrades, there is a private area for physicians that enables them to consult with specialists.
The new department will be open to patients on Tuesday, Jan. 21.
“There will be more privacy for patients and more convenience for patients,” Dix said.
Dr. Nick Balfour said when he worked at SOGH some time ago it was a challenge dealing with confidential patient information. But now, there is a separate area where you can chart and consult in private, which is ideal.
“It’s important to be able to share sensitive patient information without it broadcast throughout the department. So, from a privacy perspective and operational perspective I think it makes sense.”
Balfour said he has worked in larger hospitals that don’t have as nice of a private space to work in as SOGH does.
“This would actually be the envy of those of us who work at KGH (Kelowna General Hospital).”
Deb Runge, acute health services director for Penticton and Oliver, said the new emergency department entrance is a great improvement because patients don’t have to walk as far as they did before.
Teresa Fortune, manager of clinical services, said there is an after-hours button that patients can use to access the emergency department (by video phone). Once inside, they are then greeted by a nurse at the triage desk where they are assessed.
Runge said another change is the private ambulance bay that gives patients a level of privacy they didn’t have before.
Runge added that the new family room was constructed as a quiet space for families to gather and grieve if required.
Fortune said their previous quiet room was a long way from the emergency department.
“When you did have a family that was grieving, it was difficult for them to get to it (the quiet room). Having direct access to the emergency department makes it easier for families when they’ve just dealt with something very difficult.”
Health services administrator Carl Meadows recalled how crowded it was in the emergency department waiting room, where there wasn’t a lot of privacy.
“It was difficult during consultation because we literally had a curtain that separated where the physicians documented and the nursing station.”
Meadows said the new triage area will be quicker in terms of patient assessment and will offer more privacy.
After the ribbon cutting, Dix was asked what was being done to address the problem of understaffing at SOGH. In particular, the lack of availability of doctors on weekends that have resulted in the emergency department facing temporary closures.
Dix said there haven’t been any closures for some time.
“We’re fully staffed through the end of spring and we’re continuing to work with the community, especially the community of doctors to make sure that the place is staffed.”
Dix said they are also working to provide more primary care support for physicians in the region.
Dix was asked about the problem of pay equity between doctors who work in the emergency room in Oliver and those that work at Penticton Regional Hospital.
Dix said the key is to ensure they close the gap in terms of “unattached patients.”
He noted in this region there are about 15 per cent of patients that are unattached to a family doctor. This is better than the provincial average but still quite high, he pointed out.
That’s why the government wants to build out primary care networks with health care professionals to improve levels of care, Dix said.
“We’re working through these issues step by step. That’s why I came here to meet with doctors.”
The minister noted the hospital upgrades shows that commitment.
“We just spent a million dollars on the emergency room to make it better. We’re committed. We’re working with doctors. It’s going well; it could be going better, of course.”
Commenting on the renovations, Osoyoos Mayor Sue McKortoff said SOGH is a much-needed facility where her children were born (back when they had maternity services).
She noted the new construction is a much better use of space, eliminating the long walk to the emergency department.
“It’s much more private. It’s much more open, bright and welcoming.”
Although Osoyoos Indian Band Chief Clarence Louie said the hospital is very important to the Indigenous population, he reminded Dix that the land the hospital sits on was taken from them by the government.
“It was stolen from us and we still have an issue with that.”
But he commended the staff and ambulance workers for their services at the hospital.
“We’re all going to wind up in hospital one day. I picked up my mom from this hospital last night just outside these doors, so this hospital is very important to our people.”