Interior Health says it will improve communication

Diane Shendruk, vice-president of clinical operations for IH North, met with the Thompson Regional Hospital District board on June 16 to discuss various issues

Interior Health’s new Kamloops-based executive says proactive communication will be a priority and outlined short- to longer-term actions to address staffing shortages at Royal Inland Hospital.

On Thursday (June 16), the Thompson Regional Hospital District board met with Diane Shendruk, vice-president of clinical operations for IH North, who moved to Kamloops in January.

Shendruk fielded questions for more than an hour from regional politicians who are frustrated over prolonged service reductions, staffing shortages and constituent health-care concerns.

Shendruk explained she covers a broad portfolio and region, but said she is spending the majority of her time working at Royal Inland Hospital. She said Kamloops will have an executive director and Michaela Swan has been hired as the new director of communications for IH North. The senior executive team also appears to have made a shift in its communications leadership, with Susan Dolinski succeeding Jenn Goodwin as vice-president of communications.

Shendruk said Royal Inland Hospital continues to be “challenged” with staffing vacancies, noting she and Interior Health president Susan Brown met with staff.

Shendruk said a 30-, 60-, 90-day action plan has been developed because “urgency is required.” The 30-day items are related to human resources, such as dedicated scheduling, an urgent response team to support staff redeployment and a focus on additional supports like unit clerks, porters and housekeeping. The 60-day items include onboarding new leadership, and so-called “stay interviews” with staff, efficiencies and proactive communication. The 90-day items include support for primary and long-term care and review of part-time and full-time staffing.

Shendruk said one need identified by staff and immediately addressed was access to scrubs.

“We very quickly were able to support staff in that way,” Shendruk said.

Psychiatric nurses have also been provided with skills assessment and training in order to provide additional support to the emergency department.

Shendruk said 48 new grad students were recently hired, including 43 student nurses that are ready to start this month. As of Thursday, RIH was at 115 per cent capacity, a number that fluctuates day to day.

Seventeen staff were redeployed from other regions of Interior Health temporarily to RIH following a recent callout. Those who are located at least 40 kilometers away are provided an incentive of time-and-a-half pay.

Kamloops Mayor Ken Christian said he was surprised to hear Shendruk discussing need for scrubs, based on what elected officials have been hearing about the state of the health-care system. He noted issues related to ER delays, ER closures, diversion and bypass of hospitals, surgery postponement and cancellation, limited access to long-term care and extended stay in acute care, nursing shortages, staff frustrations, mental-health issues and more.

Christian said the Thompson Regional Hospital District over the past 10 years has contributed $218 million, money he said comes from regional taxpayers. In addition to funding health care through their provincial taxes, taxpayers throughout the region contribute to health care through a hospital district tax charged via a line item on property taxes.

“We hear from them [taxpayers] Regularly about concerns that they have related to health care in this region and they’re concerned about their return on investment,” Christian said.

Some other concerns relayed include patients presenting with more symptoms, urgent care clinic response and insufficient health care, ranging from ambulances to emergency room services in rural areas.

Ashcroft Mayor Barbara Roden said health care in her community is experiencing “death by a thousand cuts,” with a previous full-service hospital being “chipped away.” She also said Interior Health communication needs improvement. She said press releases are few and far between and those that do get issued mislead bad news for good news. She said people in the region are scared, stressed, confused and leaving.

“I have been imploring Interior Health, imploring them to come to our communities and speak directly to people,” Roden said.

Shendruk said Swan will be focused on this area and strive to improve communication, as well as to come to Ashcroft.

Shendruk said it is important to showcase what the Kamloops region has to offer because one challenge to recruitment is bad news online.

“Right now, it doesn’t take much of a search to see the negative,” she said.

Sun Peaks Mayor Al Raine cited an incident in which a patient was admitted to RIH for surgery and, five hours later, told the procedure was canceled, but given no reason. He said that type of news spreads like rapid fire.

TNRD Area J director Ronaye Elliott — whose area includes Cherry Creek, Tobiano and Savona — questioned $1.8 million to be spent on food delivery at Royal Inland Hospital. As a former patient there, Elliott described hospital meals as “deplorable,” noting she lost 12 pounds over eight days at RIH because she couldn’t eat the food. The board heard standardized menu planning across multiple communities, including meals that will be delivered hot, is underway and coming to Kamloops.

Coun. Dieter Dudy asked about Interior Health’s role in recruiting general practitioners. He said there is general confusion about who is responsible.

A delegation came to city hall this week, requesting Kamloops city council provides incentives to recruit and retain family doctors.

Shendruk said Interior Health doesn’t hire or recruit family doctors to the community because they are independent businesses. Shendruk told KTW she did not know the details of incentives, but that the proposed initiatives as proposed in other communities, such student loan forgiveness, housing, tax breaks and other incentives, would “absolutely” make a difference.

“Yes, I do,” she said, when asked if she thinks it would help to attract and retain general practitioners in Kamloops.

Interior Health did not have a representative at the council meeting, but Shendruk committed to being at the table for those conversations.

“Collectively, working together we can all make a difference,” she said.

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