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Dr. Helmcken Memorial Hospital Emergency Room overnight closure

Another overnight Emergency Room closure during a heat wave is 'especially concerning' says Clearwater mayor

Residents of Clearwater and surrounding areas have been alerted to another overnight Emergency Room closure at Dr. Helmcken Memorial Hospital beginning at 6 p.m. on Monday, July 8 and extending until 7 a.m. Tuesday, July 9. The closure is due to "limited nursing availability" according to the Interior Health Authority (IHA). 

“Another overnight closure is especially concerning considering the heat we’re experiencing right now," said Clearwater mayor Merlin Blackwell. "I get emails every day announcing ED closures across IHA. Knowing where to go is critically important, as is having robust capacity with our ambulance service to assist when the hospitals can’t.

"All options for filling nursing positions need to be on the table," he added. "Housing, signing bonuses, agency and travel nurses, hiring back staff who left or were forced out because of the vaccine mandate: all options need to be considered.”

Karen Cooper, Executive Director, Clinical Operations, Cariboo/South Cariboo at Interior Health, recently issued a statement on the current nursing shortage.

"We know changes to normal service are concerning for people in Clearwater and area, especially when they affect the emergency department at Dr. Helmcken Memorial Hospital," she noted. "Our top priority is to maintain services at all times, and everyone at the hospital is working hard to maintain those regular services.

"Our staff at the hospital are working under challenging conditions right now, and I can’t say ‘thank you’ enough to the entire team. They go above and beyond the call of duty every day."

The District of Clearwater, management at Dr. Helmcken, and physicians have been working hand-in-hand with regards to both physician and nursing recruitment. Coun. Shelley Sim, who has been active in physician recruitment and is the Community and Recruitment Coordinator for the Thompson Division, suggests there is a lot to be said for the quality of life in Wells Gray Country and the North Thompson Valley.

“In a competitive environment where nurses are in great demand all across B.C., positive community stories help shape impressions and can be enticing to candidates looking to consider Clearwater." said Sim. "With physician recruitment, we always have strong interest from candidates when they see images of our back yard. Candidates do their research, and local photos and stories are all part of the recruitment efforts.”

"We have a recently-graduated nurse who joined our team at Dr. Helmcken Memorial Hospital in early June, and she is already in training to start supporting the emergency department starting in mid-July," said Cooper.

"We have a variety of strategies underway to stabilize staffing levels in Clearwater. We provide travel pay to and from Clearwater, [and] meals and accommodations for visiting nurses. We provide three months' free accommodation for new nurses, and nurses who are new to Interior Health can access a $20,000 signing bonus. We also advertise open nursing positions in Clearwater across Canada."   

Patients are advised to access emergency care at either Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops or at the 100 Mile House District General Hospital during this time. All other in-patient services will continue as normal at Dr. Helmcken Memorial Hospital. 

An advisory from IH states that people in the community who need emergency care for life-threatening situations (i.e., chest pains, difficulty breathing, severe bleeding) should always call 9-1-1 for transport to the nearest available and appropriate facility. 

Anyone unsure whether an emergency room visit is warranted can call HealthLink BC at 8-1-1, or visit for non-emergency health information from nurses, dietitians and pharmacists 24 hours a day, seven days per week.