Elkford Hospital in BC's southeast interior forced the closure of its emergency department until further notice, citing staff shortages. The closure took effect on September 29, joining a growing list of healthcare facilities faced with a similar fate.

The provincial MLA for Kootenay East, Tom Shypitka, which encompasses Elkford, said its local hospital joined Fort St. John Hospital, the Barriere Health Centre, ?the Dr. Helmcken Memorial Hospital in Clearwater and ?the Saanich Peninsula Hospital that periodically closed their emergency departments over worker shortages.

He urged Premier John Horgan to take action.

"We are seeing an increasing number of hospitals around BC having to close their doors, simply because they cannot find enough staff to keep them open, and the same thing is happening here in the Kootenays," said Shypitka.

"The Elkford Hospital is closing its emergency department with no end date in sight, leaving the surrounding community without access to emergency medical care — and this isn't the first time. It's time for real action from John Horgan and the NDP to bring this chronic staffing shortage to an end," he said.

Shypitka said the ER was closed for a week in July, for five months between April and August 2020, and periodically in the years before the COVID pandemic struck.

In a public service announcement, Interior Health said, "Elkford Health Centre remains open for scheduled primary care appointments, lab and X-ray services as it works to fill vacant positions."

In an emergency, residents are urged to call 911 or visit the ERs in Sparwood and Elk Valley in Fernie, nearly an hour's drive away.

Staff shortages are a key reason why the BC Nurses Union remains opposed to a vaccine mandate for healthcare workers. They said they are "not in a position to support an order which will serve to remove even a single nurse or other health care worker from the health care system at a time of severe crisis."

Union vice-president Aman Grewal said they could bear to lose of a "single nurse" during the fourth wave couldn't be supported.

She said all members are encouraged to get the vaccine.

Grewal cited "20 percent" of workers are reluctant to get the shot because they are pregnant, family planning or breastfeeding.