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B.C. mayor wants vax mandate lifted for health-care workers to keep hospitals open

Merritt's hospital has closed four times in one month.
Health Minister Adrian Dix and B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.

The mayor of Merritt is calling on Victoria to abolish the vaccine mandate for health-care workers to help keep hospitals open in smaller B.C. communities like his.

“We’ve had our hospital closed four times in one month,” Mayor Michael Goetz told Castanet.

“It becomes a situation where you have to do something.”

Goetz said it’s time to start looking at all possible solutions.

“I mean, we’re into year three of COVID life and we’ve all either had the vaccine or we’re living with it and we know how to deal with it,” he said.

“I’m not an anti-vaxxer. I’ve had my vaccines. But I have no problem with an unvaccinated doctor or nurse working on me at any hospital. It would never even cross my mind.”

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix told the Vancouver Sun on Tuesday that the province will not consider lifting the mandate. He said Victoria has other tools at its disposal to deal with staffing shortages in rural hospitals.

“I feel that the Ministry of Health is still stuck in 2020,” Goetz said.

“We need to move forward.”

Goetz said the issue is especially important in rural B.C., where serious highway collisions often take place and people are more likely to work in blue collar jobs that pose hazards not seen elsewhere.

“I worry about a young family with a woman who’s pregnant and it’s 4 a.m. and she’s got to have a baby and a nervous father is driving to Kamloops in a blizzard,” he said.

“If a senior has a stroke, that golden hour is going to be spent in an ambulance carrying them to Kamloops.”

Goetz is chairing a newly formed group called the B.C. Rural Healthcare Alliance. He said 37 other rural mayors and regional district directors are so far on board.

“Basically, the whole idea is to get together, put our heads together and get our concerns to the ministry,” he said.

“This isn’t an antagonistic thing. We’re not going to be showing up with pitchforks. We’re going to try to help our communities and offer some solutions.”

Goetz said the first official meeting of the alliance will take place in the coming weeks.

“We’re going to start drafting our battle plans, we’re going to stay vocal and stay visible and continue to talk to our health authorities,” he said. “But ultimately the aim it going straight to the top.”

After that, he said, it’s off to Victoria to meet with Dix.

“We’ll drive down and we’ll present him with out concerns. And we’ll let him know that we’re willing to work and we’ll just keep pointing on this and it’s a fight that won’t end,” he said.

“Once we get to where we need to be, this health-care alliance will always remain active. It has to — so if we have to jump in again, we jump in. This is what we have to do.”