Protest organizer Marilyn Mulldoon and her husband Daniel Wong hold up signs at the Gyro Park bandshell in Osoyoos, following a rally to advocate for more health coverage in the South Okanagan. Dustin Godfrey/Western News

Small group rallies for better health coverage in South Okanagan

Around 20 people rallied in Osoyoos’s Gyro Park to show discontent with ER closures

Just a handful of people turned out for an Osoyoos rally over health care for the South Okanagan, sparked by the most recent closure of the region’s emergency department.

But organizer Marilyn Mulldoon says she’s not deterred by a small presence, with around 20 people showing up. A small presence, she said, doesn’t necessarily mean a lack of consensus in the community.

“Quite often people are worried about being seen on camera, as well, many people have just given up hope that anything is going to change, here,” Mulldoon said.

The rally in Osoyoos’s Gyro Park Friday afternoon came a week after the South Okanagan General Hospital closed the doors to its emergency department overnight on June 16. It was the second time this month that Interior Health had announced the closure, but the first time a local doctor pulled extra hours to keep the department running.

“The people here today are fed up with ER closures and tired of living with the fear of when they open the paper or turn on Facebook … they’re going to find yet another advisory that on a particular date, don’t get sick, don’t think of dying because nobody’s going to be at the ER,” Mulldoon said.

Related: With ‘caretaker’ government in charge, little direction for SOGH

Mulldoon, who suffers from an autoimmune disorder and has pulmonary complications, says she had been sick when the ER closure was announced, even considering heading to the hospital.

“If I get into trouble, I can anticipate that I’ve got to go 63 kilometres from my door to the ER door in Penticton,” she said, noting that the most recent closure was “just the straw that broke me.”

Mulldoon said one man she knows leaves town when emergency closures are announced.

“He physically leaves town and goes and stays with relatives in case he needs the ER on that given time,” she said. “Some people might consider that a severe reaction, but I think it’s kind of prudent and wise.”

She added that he’s lucky to have family he can stay with that is near an emergency department, noting a number of people “don’t have that luxury.”

While the Residents for Health Care group from Osoyoos and Oliver previously called for a walk-in clinic, the Town of Osoyoos and local doctors shot down the idea, noting that a walk-in doesn’t provide the in-depth care that many need.

But currently the emergency department is being used as a walk-in clinic for those who don’t have a family physician, and with summer officially here, the ER is likely to get busier.

“And the doctors deserve their summer holidays, too. They need time to be on vacation, time to spend with their family and time to spend on themselves for their own personal care,” Mulldoon said.

Acknowledging the issue that older doctors are often tied to their location with spouses in their own professions, Mulldoon suggested Interior Health target younger doctors, particularly recent medical school grads, noting that not all young doctors want to be in the bigger cities.

“Some of them do, but then not all of them do. Many of them would like to be where they can serve families, friends and neighbours,” she said. “Many of them would enjoy the outdoor activities here. Even if it’s just for two years.”

As it is, Mulldoon says the emergency closures gives locals a sense of not mattering to the province and to health authorities.

“Closing ERs is pretty much playing russian roulette with patients’ health. It’s a crapshoot,” she said. “You’re leaving people hanging on there, just hanging on the edge of a cliff. That’s not fair; that’s not right. That’s not what we pay our medical premiums for.”

Mulldoon says the group is looking at another rally in Oliver, where SOGH is located, though no plans have been solidified.

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