Staffing shortages at Kamloops hospital 'worse and worse by the day': MLAs

Staffing shortages and the workplace culture at a B.C. hospital were heavily criticized Thursday by two MLAs who say immediate action needs to be taken before the situation gets even worse.

Kamloops-North Thompson MLA Peter Milobar and Kamloops-South Thompson MLA Todd Stone spoke publicly about their concerns over conditions at Royal Inland Hospital. The pair said nurses from the facility are coming forward "in huge numbers" and provided data suggesting how dire circumstances are at the hospital.

"The situation at Royal Inland Hospital has been worsening over the last four to five years and it will continue to get worse if action isn't taken to make it better," Stone said, adding that staffing shortages have created what he called a "toxic workplace."

"It is time for the minister of health to start listening to these health-care workers and take the appropriate actions to rectify the situation."

Stone said data was provided "on a confidential basis" about the current staffing situation at the hospital and was told staffing levels in the emergency room were at 46 per cent during the day on Saturday.

Additionally, Stone said there was a callout to fill more than 400 shifts over the next month. As of Thursday morning, just 10 of those were filled by nurses, he said.

"Frankly, the Interior Health administration has known of the challenges with staffing levels," Stone said. "They have known of the huge retention issues. They have known of the challenges recruiting to ensure baseline resourcing in our hospital in unit after unit, ward after ward for years."

In a statement to CTV News Vancouver, Interior Health said it didn't have a breakdown of staffing in each department, but said Royal Inland Hospital as a whole was staffed between 76 and 78 per cent on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

The health authority said it asked staff throughout the region to voluntarily redeploy to Kamloops for the long weekend, when it normally sees "a surge in patients." In all, 20 people were assigned to support Royal Inland Hospital.

Both Stone and Milobar called on the province to respond to the staffing situation.

"The (health) minister needs to step in immediately and take actions or the premier needs to find a health minister that will," Milobar said.

The Health Ministry has not yet responded to a request for comment.

Stone and Milobar, who are both Opposition Liberals, shared a list of recommended actions. They include a human resources plan for the hospital "with a focus on retention and recruitment." Also recommended is an overhaul of the human resources structure at the hospital, which they say "clearly isn't working."

The Liberals also called for more operating hours in Kamloops and a solution "to the family doctor crisis," which they say will reduce pressure on hospital resources.

Interior Health responded to these recommendations, saying it already has a human-resource strategy in place "focused on retention and recruitment." So far this year, more than 50 registered nurses, licensed practical nurses and health-care assistants have been hired for Royal Inland specifically.

The health authority said it met with nursing staff from the hospital on Thursday "to hear their perspectives and better understand the root causes of some of these issues."