There are 100 new full-time nursing positions coming to northern B.C. this year but some are questioning how positions in Prince Rupert will be filled.
The B.C. government has stated it plans to hire 1,643 registered nurses across the province by the end of March. The deal between the Ministry of Health and the B.C. Nurses Union (BCNU) was announced on Jan. 19 to increase staff to make up for the shortage of nurses.
BCNU president Gayle Duteil said that a 2012 contract had promised to fill those positions but it never came to fruition.
North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice welcomes the announcement for new hires but remains skeptical.
“We already have a difficult time successfully recruiting and retaining nurses for existing positions so how is Northern Health going to fill even more?” she said.
She points out that the region needs an improved strategy to fill nursing positions in hard-to-recruit-and-retain areas, such as Prince Rupert. “There have been great efforts made but a lot of departments are still operating short-staffed,” Rice said.
It is unclear as to how many of the 100 positions will actually come to the city. It could be as low as only one position.
The North West regional executive for the British Columbia Nurses’ Union (BCNU), Sharon Sponton, is working closely with Northern Health to commit to filling those positions.
“It’s really about the British Columbia Nurses Union and myself and my colleagues being able to have input as far as where the need is and where nurses need to be hired,” Sponton said.
A number has not been committed to the Prince Rupert Regional Hospital or for the community. The health authority has taken BCNU’s suggestions.
“It’s certainly not the case where we’re limiting it to just one (nursing position),” Sponton said about Prince Rupert. “We’re optimistic that it’s going to provide the needed relief for the nurses that are on the front line.”
Northern Health media relations, Jonathon Dyck, said he also believes there is going to be more than one position coming to Prince Rupert but is still working on numbers.
Still, Rice said that more needs to be done rather than adding positions that don’t get filled. “We need a recruitment and retention strategy that fills the current nursing vacancies or else creating new positions will do little to serve the health needs of Prince Rupert residents and little to relieve the pressure felt by our already over-stretched working nurses.”
Rice said that she recently visited the Prince Rupert Regional Hospital and witnessed an overflowing emergency room where hospital staff were stretched thin from working overtime or being short-staffed.
There are currently 10 registered nursing positions available in Prince Rupert through the Northern Health careers webpage, not including the new positions.
Three of those positions have been vacant over 90 days, according to Bridget LeBlanc, the regional manager of recruitment for Northern Health. Adding more positions is not the challenge, filling them is.
LeBlanc said that the majority of the job vacancies are for specialty positions, which can’t be filled by new graduates.
“We’re working on a strategy of providing additional training to current staff,” LeBlanc said. “We’re looking at creative options.”
Some of the strategies include hiring new grads in advance to allow staff to take training in specialty areas, having incentive programs for return to service agreements in rural communities and recruiting graduates to stay in the north by continuing to work with post-secondary institutions.
New positions have been posted in a number of areas across Northern Health and Dyck said that we “will share more details as they become available. There is an internal posting process that has to be followed before they can be posted externally”.