Interior Health chief executive Chris Mazurkewich met with reporters at the South Okanagan General Hospital Friday morning to talk rural health care in the region after meeting with local politicians and interest groups. Dustin Godfrey/Western News

IH CEO talks emergency care in South Okanagan

With more doctors in the area and talks underway, IH hopes to curb emergency department closures

As the health authority prepares to drop nearly $1 million along with local governments on emergency department renovations, Interior Health’s chief executive is looking to quell fears of a potential hospital closure in the South Okanagan.

Chris Mazurkewich was in Oliver Friday morning to meet with local interest groups and politicians to talk about health care in the rural South Okanagan region, where emergency department closures and challenging infrastructure have plagued the community in the past.

“There’s no plans to close this hospital. Why would we close it?” he said in a later meeting with reporters. “Why would we spend $1 million, or ask the provincial government and local governments to spend $1 million if we’re thinking of closing it.”

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Of those upgrades, Mazurkewich shone a light on some of the upgrades IH is looking at for the South Okanagan General Hospital, with a focus on the emergency department.

“One is the entrance into the emergency room will be changed and privacy within the emergency room will be done differently in order to enhance privacy,” he said. “The third element will be to enhance flow of the staff and physicians and patients within the emergency room.”

Oliver Mayor Ron Hovanes told the Western News late last month the entrance to the emergency room has been problematic with the line of sight, with nurses and doctors often unable to see who is coming in and leaving.

Related: Renos coming for Oliver emergency department

After Dr. Peter Entwistle resigned from the position of chief of staff last spring, Interior Health has been relying on the Penticton Regional Hospital’s top doctor Brad Raison to run the show in Oliver, but Mazurkewich said there haven’t been any plans to replace Entwistle for the rural hospital.

“We’ve had chiefs of staff cover more than one hospital at different points in time within IH, that seemed to work fairly well,” he said.

Mazurkewhich also touched on staffing issues, which had caused some problems for the small communities last summer, with not enough doctors around at times to staff the emergency department, leading to closures, or threats thereof.

Related: Osoyoos gets funds for health-care needs study

That had caused some backlash from local residents, particularly in Osoyoos, where a closed emergency department in Oliver would mean nearly an hour’s drive to the nearest emergency department in Penticton.

“In the last nine months, I don’t think there’s been any closures. I think four or five physicians came to the community, we’ve seen the emergency room open on a regular basis,” he said.

“Right now we’ve been working with the local physicians and the ministry of health on is there an alternative payment structure that would make it easier to retain and attract physicians to work in the emergency room, and we’re waiting to see what the results of that would bring.”

Related: Small group rallies for better health coverage in South Okanagan

Mazurkewich declined to offer what the talks have covered between IH, local doctors and the province, but said making for a more appealing and workable emergency department could help mitigate short-staffing.

“There’s looking at staffing levels of nursing within the hospital. We’ve put in security because that was a concern,” he said, adding doctor compensation was also a factor to consider.


@dustinrgodfrey

dustin.godfrey@pentictonwesternnews.com

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