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Castlegar News best of 2012 - January and February
Local residents concerned about smart meters
A group of concerned residents from Grandview Heights in Castlegar are concerned about the potential effects of smart meters if they are installed in the West Kootenay.
"We are a core group of concerned citizens joining with other concerned groups such as the Citizens for a Safe Technology, who have already initiated legal action calling for these smart meters to be stopped," said spokesperson Cliff Paluck.
FortisBC is preparing to apply to the B.C. Utilities Commission (BCUC) for an Advanced Metering Infrastructure program. Should they get approval, FortisBC will replace all existing meters with advanced (smart) meters.
According to the FortisBC website, the Advanced Meters will keep rates lower and allow the company to service customers better and quicker.
BC Hydro has already begun replacing their old meters with smart meters throughout much of British Columbia.
Opponents of the meters say they are dangerous and were forced on people in B.C. without proper consultation.
"There are many health issues that need to be clarified," said Paluck. "Neither BC Hydro nor Fortis has proven to us that this is safe technology and that's where we're at. We're being told that we are getting these smart meters and they're such a good thing for the power system."
As senior citizens, Paluck and others from Grandview Heights are concerned mainly about the potential health dangers from the smart meters.
"We've only been in existence for a couple of weeks," he said. "What we're doing is contacting as many people as we can in the region. We're trying to build the knowledge base in people so they can make proper, informed decisions. We would like a moratorium placed on this project until the health issues are studied and resolved."
A representative from FortisBC said the company is currently preparing their application for the BCUC.
"We haven't filed this application for advanced meters yet," said Neal Pobran, corporate communications advisor. "Once we do, we would go with a regulatory process and then end up with a decision for whether this project would go forward."
FortisBC, which provides energy to approximately 940,000 customers in 125 B.C. communities including Castlegar and the surrounding area all the way west to Princeton, north to Kelowna, and east to Creston, has yet to install any advanced meters and won't until and if the project is approved by BCUC.
Pobran said the company is listening to customers complaints about health issues.
"We believe they're safe, but we're still following and listening to the experts in the field like (provincial health officer) Dr. Perry Kendall who says the smart meters are safe," he said. "We'll go through the regulatory process. That's where people can talk to the commission about any health risks, if they think there are any."
IHA rep apologizes to council over ER closure
At Monday night's Castlegar city council meeting, IHA Community Area Director Linda Basran apologized to council for the Castlegar Health Centre Emergency Room closure on Feb. 4.
"I want to be clear - none of this was intentional," she said to council and about a dozen spectators including a few dressed as wounded patients. "The reality was we had a situation in Castlegar that we weren't prepared for. We have never had an emergency room closure in Castlegar before and when we did on Feb. 4, a number of steps failed along the way. Basically, the right information did not get to the right people in a timely manner. This is meant as an explanation not an excuse."
Basran explained the details leading up to the closure of the ER and talked about what Interior Health has done to address the shortfalls made clear by the incident.
"Interior Health became aware of a vacant shift on Friday evening, Feb. 3, when one of the two RN shifts had inadvertently not been scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 4," she said. "At that point, calls were made to try and fill this shift. We were able to secure staffing for the morning, but were unable to fill the afternoon and evening shift. All efforts were made to fill this shift including calls to 14 casual employees."
Basran pointed out that casual employees have the "opportunity - not obligation - to pick up those shifts".
"When it became clear we didn't have a second RN available, the decision was made to close the site," she said. "Unfortunately, information did not flow to all key personnel within Interior Health including communications who would have supported the distribution of this information to the community."
After her presentation, Basran took questions from council. Sue Heaton-Sherstobitoff asked how many full time RN's Castlegar had and if IHA planned to hire any more. "We have 14 casual staff and our regular staff includes 2.5 FTEs, which is full-time equivalent," answered Basran.
"So we have two RNs on for 12 hour shifts, plus another half-time person."
"Do you think two and a half full-time RNs is enough in case one of them gets sick?" asked Heaton-Sherstobitoff.
Councillor Russ Hearne asked Basran: "Who's decision was it to close the ER? Who ultimately made the decision?"
"I would think a number of people did from the medical staff that were on, the nursing staff, and the frontline people who were there," she said.
Hearne pressed for a name of a high ranking IHA official who made the final decision on the closure but was rebuked.
"In this particular case there wasn't clear communication to the administrator on call," said Basran. "In all fairness, we were in the wrong in terms of how this closure was handled. I hope we have done our due diligence to make sure that everybody ever to be associated with what goes on in this community knows their roles, knows where to take it, and knows all the numbers. I hope that helps without divulging individual staff member's names because I don't think that ever buys us anything."
In an interview with the Castlegar News, Hearne said he was disappointed at not being able to talk to the person at IHA responsible for the closure decision.
"I thought it was nice that someone came and offered the apology," said Hearne. "It's disappointing that we didn't get to talk to the person who made the decision to explain their rationale. So we would have a chance to ask the tough questions for them. I thought it was a bit disrespectful in that the decision makers weren't here. We weren't even provided with the name of who it was. I didn't expect much more than an apology. I know they can't go back in time and redo it. We have to work to make sure in the future we don't get this again.
I think IHA has to do a better job to make sure they can cover it. With hospitals in Trail and Nelson and a health centre in Castlegar, we should be able to find the staff to do it. I respect that people get sick and injured and aren't able to be there. But they have to have coverage. I think not having it is unacceptable."