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ER closures putting added pressure on paramedics

The president of Ambulance Paramedics of BC says continued emergency room closures in the Interior Health zone is putting pressure on paramedics in neighbouring communities.

So far in September, the ER at South Okanagan General Hospital in Oliver, B.C. was temporarily forced to shut its doors eight times. The health agency says this is a direct result of limited physician availability.

On Saturday, yet another ER closure was announced for SOGH. From 6 p.m. until 8 a.m., residents in Oliver were once again advised to access care at Penticton Regional Hospital, which is roughly a 40-minute drive – not ideal for paramedics who are faced with an hour and 20-minute round trip.

“It defintely puts pressure on the system,” said president of Ambulance Paramedics of BC, Troy Clifford.

“There’s no question the impacts of closures directly relate to our resources and our capacity but ultimately, patient care.”

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That stress the paramedics face as they rush to try and get their patient to the nearest ER can have a direct impact on their mental health.

“There’s no doubt that doing this work in those situations, when you’re with a serious patient or somebody that requires advanced high-level care, you’re spending more time with them and doing the best of your skills, but they need to be in a hospital and seen by a physician,” said Clifford.

“That adds another psychological and mental health component.”

Another B.C. Interior community hit hard by ER closures this year, is Merritt. One resident from the town has been instrumental in organizing rallies, to try and bring some awareness to the closures. She says if something doesn’t change, it could put people’s lives at risk.

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“A lot of people here work in the bush. Someone here logging could have an accident, 45 kilometres out of town,” said Merritt resident Georgia Clement.

“By the time they get to town, if the ER is closed, it’s another hour at least sometimes, if the road is open, to the next facility — it’s just not fair.”

If the ER shutdowns in Merritt continue, Clement says rallies will be held two days after every closure.

“We intend to ramp up the protests and include civil disobedience, if necessary, if this government doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do and offer the health care that British Columbians need in rural communities in this province,” said Clement.

ER closures aren’t just happening in the Interior Health zone; it’s become an issue in rural communities across the province. Last year, a woman in Ashcroft, B.C. died of cardiac arrest, while the ER in the small town was temporarily closed.