Nursing Shortage At Northern Health In British Columbia

According to recent Northern Health correspondence, as of last May, the Northeast had 54 open positions, of which 17 – nearly one-third – were for nursing jobs.

Christine Sorenson, vice-president of the labor organization in British Columbia, said that the Northern Health district, like many other parts of Canada, is facing a nursing shortage. And a shortage of nurses can contribute to the ongoing doctor shortage here, she added, as less support staff like nurses can make it harder for doctors to operate, and easier for them to leave.

Northern Health is facing a shortage of trained healthcare workers, particularly in more rural areas of Northern B.C. Difficult-to-fill positions, classified as postings active for more than 90 days from the initial date of posting, decreased by four percent last year, while the total number of openings for nursing positions remained constant.

But that difficulty is not unique to northeastern B.C., according to Sorenson and de Smit Chief Operating Officer for Northern Health.

“We have a difficulty with all of the rural and remote sites across British Columbia – not only retaining nurses in those communities but also recruiting nurses,” Sorenson said. “There’s a nursing shortage everywhere.”

The consequences of the shortage were clear a couple of weekends ago. Sorenson’s union warned that Fort St. John Hospital faced “a critical shortage” in nurses in the intensive care unit that could lead to its shutdown if not remedied.

According to Sorenson, nurses from other units of the hospital gave up their nurses to fill this shortage – and these units were left short-staffed.

However, de Smit disputed that staff were moved back and forth between units on that weekend.

Immigration as a solution

The good news is that, in 2017, Northern Health provided support for eight applicants under the provincial nominee program, an immigration program for skilled workers. Four of these applicants were registered, nurses.

The health authority hopes to employ a significant digital recruiting strategy in 2018 with methods ranging from data mining their existing databases to social media advertising and online video campaigns focused on healthcare students.

Northern Health is aware of their nursing issues, said Sorenson. And there are solutions.

“I think there are a lot of very creative solutions that we would like the employer to consider,” she said. “We are more than happy to work with the employer to look at recruitment and retention for rural and remote areas.”