In the face of the maternity unit crisis at Cariboo Memorial Hospital, chief of staff and long-time family physician Dr. Paul Magnuson said the temporary closure is a ‘heartfelt gut-wrenching situation,’ but he does feel encouraged for the future.
“It’s an all-hands-on-deck recruitment effort and I’m really feeling supported by Interior Health at all levels,” Magnuson told reporters during a call-in media conference Wednesday. “I don’t think it’s something that is being ignored and put on the back burner. It is forefront of everyone’s minds.”
Last week, Interior Health announced the temporary closure of the maternity unit because of a staffing shortage.
Initially the reaction was “obviously” very difficult to accept and there was some angst and anxiety over the closure, Magnuson said.
“What I can say, and it speaks to the resiliency of the people in the Cariboo and the workers at the hospital — both the nursing staff and the physicians — is at this point they are not being a part of the problem, they are actually being part of the solution and offering to be involved in whatever way they can to support the situation.”
Karen Bloemink, vice-president of clinical operations for IH North, joined Magnuson for the interview and said the decision where pregnant women will be relocated while the closure endures will be based on their individual needs and the needs of their families, in consultation with the expectant women and their physicians.
“The situation is temporary,” she added. “Interior Health recognizes that this service is important for the residents of the Cariboo-Chilcotin and measures are being taken to restore services at CMH as quickly as possible.”
When asked how it got to the point of having to close the maternity unit, Bloemink responded that recruitment for specialized nursing staff is an ongoing challenge throughout Interior Health all the time.
“We plan to train and recruit nurses that have the required specialized skills. Active recruitment has been underway for CMH for over a year or so, that includes both within B.C. and across Canada and internationally.”
The closure happened because they had not planned for two unexpected vacancies, she added.
“It’s unfortunate. We hope this situation will be rectified very quickly and we are taking steps right now to ensure we can restore service as soon as possible.”
Presently there is one maternity nurse working per 12-hour shift, and there is an on-call function being maintained, as well as an obstetrical clinic that provides prenatal care to expectant mothers.
The clinic is open Monday, Wednesday and Friday with one RN working from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m, confirmed Susan Duncan, IH communications.
“Those services are continuing,” Bloemink said. “It’s the 24/7, seven days a week, reliable delivery service that we have not been able to retain.”
When asked if nursing applicants have been turned away, Bloemink said she could not validate that concern.
“I know that we require three more three full-time equivalent registered nurses with the training in order for us to get that obstetrical unit back up operating on a full-time basis.”
Bloemink said IH is confident that other hospitals will be able to accommodate mothers travelling from the Cariboo-Chilcotin to deliver babies.
“Right at this moment we do expect to have the capacity at Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops to sustain transfers that are coming out of Williams Lake. We do not have existing staffing vacancies in that location now and we don’t expect to have any in the near future. The ones that we are aware of we are planning for.”
She said some women have travelled to Kelowna and Prince George as well.
Across rural B.C., there have been challenges for recruitment and retention on many fronts, particularly for health care workers that are specialized, Bloemink said.
“That will include everything from lab technicians, to diagnostic technologists, to registered nurses and physicians, just to name a few. That’s not unique to Interior Health, it is a challenge within B.C. as well as across other jurisdictions within Canada.”
Magnuson confirmed there is a contingency plan in place if someone declines travelling to deliver a baby elsewhere because it is not an option for them.
“We have run into situations where we have had people struggling with getting out of town if they’ve got animals, family commitments or a husband that works out of town,” he said of one example. “It is not that we are necessarily not still encouraging them to make a plan of relocating, it is essentially planning for every scenario at the hospital.”
Magnuson said he wanted to breathe optimism into the situation.
“I think as we get through this we are going to be stronger for it as a community.”