Doctor Jeff Eppler has been an emergency-room physician at Kelowna General Hospital for nearly three decades.
“I’ve been here for 28 years,” Eppler told Global News.
But in those years, he’s never seen staffing challenges like the current ones at KGH, adding the emergency room is often operating without a full complement of nurses.
“I’ve really never seen morale lower and I’ve never seen such high staff turnover as I’ve seen recently,” said Eppler.
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While he can only speak of challenges in the emergency room, Eppler said that what happens in the ER is a direct reflection of what’s taking place in the hospital overall.
“In the last many months, I’ve seen really marked increases and just how overwhelmed the hospital is,” he said.
“And the more overwhelmed the hospital is, that tends to back up into the emergency department — which means when I see somebody and get them to hospital, they don’t go to a ward … they stay in the emergency department, sometimes for days.”
Eppler said that’s because there aren’t enough acute care beds to meet the needs of a growing and older community.
“It’s hard to care for somebody when they’re in a hallway stretcher and alcove,” he said.
“I really have to tip my hat to the nursing colleagues who work so hard to provide good care.”
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On Wednesday, Eppler’s concerns were echoed during question period at the provincial legislature after they were brought forward by Kelowna-Mission MLA Renee Merrifield.
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“Thank goodness for our healthcare workers and thank goodness that they actually admit the crisis and are here speaking out,” said Merrifield.
“They are giving us the warning signs and sounding the alarm that our healthcare system is failing.”
Interior Health (IH) admitted both staffing and capacity challenges are an issue, but added that it’s a problem facing healthcare across B.C. and Canada.
“Kelowna General Hospital hasn’t been immune to any of those struggles and we are definitely seeing some sustained numbers and overcapacity,” said Jaymi Chernoff, executive director of KGH.
“The fatigue and burnout of staff are absolutely real and some days are definitely harder than others.”
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But Chernoff said work is actively underway to fill those staffing gaps.
“There’s a lot of dedicated effort on recruitment right now and not just recruitment, but retention of the staff that we do have,” said Chernoff, “because every single person who is providing services in healthcare right now is so important to the work that we need to provide safe patient care.”
Chernoff added that IH is also working daily with physicians and other community partners to come up with solutions to problems that it’s facing.
“We still have a lot of room to grow, but we’re continuing to do what we can to ensure that we’re providing the best and safe patient care,” she said.
Eppler said more resources are badly needed — not only in hospitals but in community care. And that includes more support for family physicians.
“We need to support our family doctors who provide really, really good long-term care, who get to know their patients,” Eppler said.
“That keeps patients from getting into a crisis, where they need admission to hospital in many cases, and allows us to get people back into the community more quickly in many cases.”
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Despite the challenging climate at KGH, the public is being reassured that help will be there when they need it.
“People shouldn’t feel like if we come to this department, they’re not going to get world-class care,” Eppler said.
“If you have a heart attack or stroke or broken bone, you’re going get excellent care in the emergency department.”
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