24/7 emergency department care demanded in Princeton

MLA Harry Lali joins the discussion about Princeton Hospital emergency department closures, more than 600 people sign petition.

MLA Harry Lali joined Princeton residents on April 12 in a discussion about Princeton Hospital emergency department closures.

MLA Harry Lali joined Princeton residents on April 12 in a discussion about Princeton Hospital emergency department closures.

More than 600 people have signed a petition for 24/7 emergency care in Princeton since it began circulating around a week ago.

The petition’s organizer Nienke Klaver hopes more than 2,000 people will add their signatures by April 23 so the petition has time to be tabled into legislature by Harry Lali, MLA for Fraser-Nicola.

Klaver and helpers are spreading the petition to other communities around Princeton, including Coalmont, Tulameen, Allison Lake and Missezula.

Once Klaver has enough signatures, she will be giving the petition to Princeton town council, the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen, the Minister of Health and others.

“I want to at least bring awareness to the politicians that this is not a good situation for Princeton, especially with the industry around us and a major highway going through town,” Klaver said.

“It’s a dangerous situation. It’s always a matter of money, and we’re going to try to push for more money.”

The government, Interior Health and the College of Surgeons and Physicians are the ones who can change the way the hospital is run, said Princeton resident Ed Staples.

The petition asks the Minister of Health to bring back a fully functioning hospital with a 24/7 emergency room.

Last week Interior Health announced Princeton Hospital’s emergency department would close from midnight to 8 a.m. Monday to Thursday starting May 1.

The closures are expected to last around a year.

The petition reads: “As residents of Princeton and area, we the undersigned are very concerned about the recent closures of our emergency facilities at the Princeton Hospital. Princeton is a rural, resource-based community, with a major highway going through town.

We ask that you honour your commitment to ‘provide quality, appropriate and timely health services to British Columbians’ and bring back a fully functioning hospital with a 24/7 emergency room.”

Residents leave Princeton

Princeton’s two per cent population drop from 2006 to 2011 – despite the mine opening last year – was caused by, in part, by hospital emergency room closures, said Mayor Fred Thomas in a previous Spotlight article.

In search of better medical coverage, the workers settled in neighbouring communities, he  said.

“We lost out on the natural growth that should have occurred with the mine opening. Getting that growth back is going to be extremely difficult and time consuming.”

MLA joins discussion

A group of concerned Princeton residents joined Deputy Mayor Jason Earle and Harry Lali, MLA for Fraser-Nicola, on April 12 to discuss possible solutions to the scheduled emergency room closures.

Earle said doctors in Princeton should have to help out in the emergency department – something Interior Health doesn’t force them to do.

“Say a doctor wants to work in Princeton, is he going to want to come here to make up for two other doctors (not doing enough on-call work)?” he said.

“If that doctor that doesn’t take on-call decides to give up the 15-minute visits and the paycheque, you don’t think there will be another to take his spot that is willing to take on-call (emergency room work)?”

There are three doctors in Princeton. One doctor does emergency department work any time of the day. Another is on-call during the day, but not at night, while the other doesn’t do emergency department work at all.

The key to attracting doctors to small communities like Princeton is by training them in rural medicine, Lali said.

“Even though British Columbia as a whole does not have a shortage of doctors, there is a shortage of doctors in certain communities, most of them rural,” he said, adding many doctors prefer to stay in large cities because it allows them to practice everything they’ve learned in school.

Earle said Interior Health needs to take more responsibility for Princeton’s hospital, and not leave it up to the town. Princeton town council has had a difficult time getting in touch with Interior Health, he added.

“We are committed to work with Interior Health, not for Interior Health.”