(AP photo)

UPDATE: Northern Health dealing with lack of 121 registered nurses

Auditor General says officials need to improve internal management, track effect of new policies

B.C.’s auditor general is warning that the Northern Health Authority region is short 121 registered nurses, leading to unfilled shifts and longer patient wait times.

In a report released Thursday, Carol Bellringer said the health authority was unable to fill 15 per cent of its full-time registered nurse positions as of April 2017, as well as six full-time nurse practitioner positions.

Nurse practitioners can prescribe medication and order tests, and are often the main health professional for many remote B.C. communities.

READ: B.C. Nurses say enough violence in the workplace

“It’s a pretty big number, even though it doesn’t sound like a lot,” Bellringer told reporters. “It shouldn’t be left without attention from the [health] ministry and the health authority. It isn’t a new problem.”

Some areas, like Upper Skeena, Nechako, Smithers, Prince Rupert, Fort Nelson, Peace River North and Terrace, were short more than 20 per cent of their workforce.

Northern Health could only fill half its vacant shifts with its own part-time nurses, the report says. The other half of the shifts remained vacant or were filled by contracted nurses, usually at a higher wage.

She warned nurse shortages could lead to burnout, which increases the risks of mistakes, longer wait times and lower patient safety, as over-worked nurses do not always have time to check up on patients.

Quesnel Mayor Bob Simpson said his constituents haven’t complained to him specifically about waiting longer for medical treatment, but he has heard about a related problem.

“We have nursing graduates who want to remain here, but aren’t able to find positions,” Simpson said.

Quesnel is one of three northern B.C. communities where the College of New Caledonia, Northwest Community College and the University of Northern British Columbia collaborate to offer a nursing degree program. The other two communities are Terrace and Prince George.

David Williams, Northern Health vice-president of human resources, said this shortage is not unique to the north, and that the authority tries to highlight the benefits of working in the region.

He also said Bellringer’s information came a time when Northern Health had introduced a model in which nurses worked together with other staff like social workers and physio therapists.

The report said nurses felt unqualified to work on those teams because they might have to perform a general primary care nurse, and not in their specialized area.

All registered nurses are qualified to work as primary care nurses, Williams said, but the health authority was working with their staff to make sure they felt comfortable with their news roles.

A request for comment from the health ministry has not yet been returned.

Bellringer’s report will go to a non-partisan legislative committee for review.

She said the health authority has brought in better recruitment and retention practices, the report adds, it has failed to track the effects.

Some factors, like weather and isolation, were out of the agency’s control, the report says, but it could improve poor management practices as well as work with existing nurses to shift them into jobs they’d find more satisfying.


@katslepian

katya.slepian@bpdigital.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Heat warning issued for Vancouver Island

Temperatures expected to cool down later this week

Saanich seals history with time capsule

Saanich will re-open time capsule in 2067

Short trip to car-free Sidney Spit offers camping, beaches, hikes

Sidney Spit is part of B.C.’s Gulf Islands National Park Reserve, a protected marine ecosystem

Women’s March Victoria keeps movement going with UVic symposium

Discussions, community building and fundraising event highlights women of colour, LGBTQ, immigrants

Canadian military gains valuable disaster experience at RIMPAC

Naval, air force and army personnel practise war activities, humanitarian relief

Royal Victoria Yacht Club sends strong presence to BC Summer Games

Oak Bay athlete Max Chapman competes in sailing this week

Proposed charges will cost Saanich housing affordability

The head of the association representing home builders in the Greater Victoria… Continue reading

B.C. teen meets Nicolas Cage

Filming mob movie in downtown Vernon, B.C.

Critics claim Trump “defended a tyrant”

Trump questions US intel, not Putin, on Russia 2016 meddling

B.C. MLAs choose new children’s watchdog

Jennifer Charlesworth has worked in government, social services

B.C. reporter calls out immigration photo on social media as fake news

A Vancouver reporter is calling out a British politician for spreading fake news

Hundreds of Arctic glaciers shrinking, disappearing

Out of 1,773 glaciers, 1,353 shrank significantly between 2000 and 2016

Indigenous housing providers worried Liberal proposals could put families on the streets

Indigenous housing providers raise alarms about future of federal funding deals

Most Read