Pair visits with IHA officials

A pair of concerned citizens from Castlegar recently travelled to Kelowna to meet with the IHA board.

Gordon Zaitsoff and Mike O'Connor.

Gordon Zaitsoff and Mike O'Connor.

A pair of concerned citizens from Castlegar recently travelled to Kelowna to meet with and make a presentation to the Interior Health Authority’s (IHA) board of directors.

Gordon Zaitsoff, RDCK area J director, and Mike O’Connor, former Castlegar mayor, both agreed their trip to the Okanagan was worthwhile despite weather and travel concerns.

“We left to Kelowna on Thursday. We had requested to meet with the IHA board of directors,” said Zaitsoff. “The reason we went to Kelowna was to convey information in regard to the ER closure of Castlegar. Mike and myself have had the opportunity to partake in three different presentations on the ER closure. Through those meetings we were able to gather more information that we thought was very important to present to the board of directors.”

The ER in Castlegar was shut down on Feb. 4 due to a lack of available nurses.

“(We are worried about) the ongoing concerns about not filling positions in the hospital systems. Not just in Castlegar but the other areas (in the West Kootenay) as well,” said Zaitsoff. “Mike brought the board up to speed on the past discussions. I think the board was very attentive to the past history and how we got to the point we are now.”

O’Connor, who was mayor in Castlegar from 1993-2006, said with a new board at the helm of IHA, it was important to bring them up to speed on the ER situation in Castlegar.

“The history of the closures of the hospitals in the area started out under the acute care role review,” he said. “That was the guideline, we called it the “battle plan” of the IHA for the Kootenays.”

Despite running in the black and being well maintained under then-administrator Ken Talarico, the Castlegar Hospital was closed.

“At the time, IHA admitted that the Castlegar Hospital was the best maintained, best run, and best shape of the three (West Kootenay hospitals). Nevertheless, they got their way and it was closed,” said O’Connor. “The promise at the time, which is in the role review, when they did this the other hospitals would be maintained to different degrees. Nelson to a lower, lower degree and Trail would be maintained as a quasi-regional hospital until such time as a new regional hospital would be built. There would be no money for additions, no money for upgrades, no money for anything. As soon as a piece of land was acquired and approved by IHA, planning was to start right away. That’s right in the role review. My question is: why are we not following the role review. Why are we continuing to sink money into old buildings? Buildings that will, sooner or later, have to be replaced. Castlegar has bought the land (by the airport), IHA approved the purchase, and the site for a hospital.”

O’Connor said that Castlegar has presented IHA with several different hospital proposals for the city but has been rejected each time.

“What we did today (March 22), as Gord said, was to bring them up to the history and what we saw as us not going forward,” said O’Connor. “We said to them, ‘the people of the West Kootenay deserve the same type of health care as people receive in the rest of the province of British Columbia.’ There’s no reason why we shouldn’t receive the same thing. We should have a new regional hospital here. We brought that forward to them. I think we opened some eyes.”

As far as the nursing situation, Zaitsoff told the IHA board that, “three positions in the Castlegar ER just doesn’t cut it.”

“It just doesn’t cut it with your vacations and sicknesses and everything else,” he said. “One of the things we focused on was scheduling. What tends to happen now is that scheduling is done at the last minute. It usually occurs the day of or day before. So what happens is that sometimes you don’t fill that vacancy. It means the floor or department has to operate with less personnel, which impacts service. We talked about having scheduling done locally rather than in Cranbrook.  We talked about 24 hour service in Castlegar. We talked about the Ultrasound machine being manned full-time in Castlegar.”

The two agreed that the IHA board was very receptive to their 25 minute speech and asked several questions afterwards.

“I made the statement that it’s very difficult for IHA to do their own report card,” said Zaitsoff. “I think what information we were able to pass on, the board of directors heard some of this stuff for the first time. If we were going to make any headway, addressing the board of directors was a key step. It opened up a lot of eyes.”

“We didn’t want it to be an attack on IHA,” said O’Connor. “We were there to work with the IHA and keep them appraised of the situation in the West Kootenays and in particular our area.”

The two were told that the IHA board would take the information received and look into it.