Doctors leaving Prince Rupert, but more coming

Northern Health focuses on recruitment and retention

At least seven doctors have been lost from the Prince Rupert health care system in 2021, leaving vacancies in gynecology, obstetrics, emergency room, surgeries, internal medicine and family practice, a Northern Health Authority delegation reported in a recent presentation to the city council.

“So, as you’re all probably somewhat painfully aware, we’ve lost quite a few physicians lately, and we are still losing a couple more,” Dr. Gillaume Coetzee, chief of staff at Prince Rupert Regional Hospital, said.

Coetzee said there are many reasons doctors choose to leave, with some wishing to retire and others looking for opportunities elsewhere.

“This year, we also had the unfortunate news of the departure of Dr. Croft, and he will be imminently leaving us. He is a GP obstetrician provider as well as the emergency room provider,” Coetzee said, adding Dr. Kevin Browne, the sole internal medicine practitioner, will also be leaving at the end of the year.

With many doctors leaving, Dr. Jaco Fourier, co-lead medical director for the Northwest, said recruitment is in the works. Recruiting for more than seven positions is underway with general practitioner skills, surgery, obstetrics, gynecology with infertility specialty, internal medicine, emergency room experience and psychiatry.

The recruitments include two internal medicine specialists Fourie said, which will cut back on necessary travel for patients from the west to Terrace and further east.

“Prince Rupert, in my memory, has never had two full-time internists, not in 50 years. So there will be tremendous capacity,” he said.

Doctor vacancies and health care worker shortages in the city have created a strain on the health care retention and recruiting system, Julia Pemberton, Northern Health services administrator for Prince Rupert and Haida Gwaii, said at the Nov. 8 community update.

“COVID-19 has really provided an additional challenge to our existing staff, so to retain them, as well as find new staff who want to come to join us in the north — we are seeing a loss of staff due to burnout and pandemic fatigue,” Pemberton said of nursing and hospital staff, adding there was also a loss of some personnel due to recent Public Health Orders making vaccines mandatory for health workers.

She said the staffing situation is a shared experience across the north and will take some time to return to baseline staffing levels.

Strategies are being put in place to assist with recruiting new staff and retention of existing staff such as housing, staff wellness and equipment renewal.

Northern Health has invested in some new housing units, with more ventures to come, Pemberton said. Housing will help temporary staff as well as be a landing space for new staff.

Leadership with strong stability was a key issue that personnel voiced as a concern to her.

“Internally, I’ve really championed a focus on culture and improving teamwork and psychological health and safety in the workplace here at Prince Rupert Regional Hospital, in our long term care and also in our community services.”

“I am happy to say that I’ve been able to build a complete leadership team for the West cluster,” she said, with a focus on keeping that team going.

Pemberton said 2022 will see two funding strategies to support recruitment. One is staff wellness which will comprise of few different community projects, including updates to staff rooms and a potential gym.

“As well as others they are working on to make it a nicer and better place to work, and to create small spaces within the hospital where staff can take breaks and recuperate from their job.”

The second initiative is a surgical and specialized service equipment renewal. She said this would ensure staff have the right tools to do the job by replacing any outdated, out-of-service equipment.

Another “innovative and exciting” approach to attract and keep new staff is daycare, Ciro Panessa, chief operating officer for Northern Health Northwest Division said, noting there are no plans to run a daycare.

“But, we’ll have some funding to explore some partnerships, to help spur further development of childcare seats, or expanded hours of operation … to support health care workers on shift work that need childcare in order to support their kids, while also providing a valuable service to the community.”

Panessa said a lot of time is spent on human resource issues and the need for more staffing in this area is critical for “transactional duties such as creating positions, vacation approval, reviewing rotations and scheduling.” More HR support positions will be created for managers across the Northwest.

Recently created physician educators positions for long-term care, critical care and maternity, which are hoped will be supportive to teams going forward and support operational managers.

“Some may end up being in P.R. as well as other locations across the NW to support the clinical teams,” He said.

“We’re going to see more and more in-house training, and that’s been started with the support of the provincial government with the healthcare assistant training programme. We currently have a number of trainees in Prince Rupert and across the Northwest, who are training to become care aides. We’ll start to see in the new year some of those first graduates.”

READ MORE: Two family doctors to leave Prince Rupert

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K-J Millar | Journalist 
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