(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

BC Wildfire crew rescues lost puppies

They were just leaving the Monashee Complex of fires when they found the cutest creatures.

Casual memberships now available through the Kootenay Carshare Coop

The Kooteany Carshare Cooperative is now offering a new casual membership. Waving… Continue reading

Sister Says playing Saturday at Revelstoke Summer Street Fest

Canadian siblings bring their soulful indie-pop sound to Grizzly Plaza

Ministry denies request for air quality monitoring in Revelstoke

Revelstoke City Council’s request that an air quality monitoring system be re-established… Continue reading

City of Revelstoke and CSRD reach fire protection agreement

A new fire protection agreement has been negotiated between the City of… Continue reading

UPDATE: Air quality improves slightly

Breathing conditions are improving, though still not ideal

Evacuation alert for Dark Lake Valley area

There are 21 properties are affected

B.C. team stays alive in Little League World Series after another nail-biter

Surrey-based squad scored a 6-4 win over Mexico reps in Williamsport on Monday

Kids, seniors at risk as smoke from distant fires hangs over parts of B.C.

B.C. Centre for Disease Control says children’s lungs don’t fully develop until about age 10

B.C. mother charged in 7-year-old daughter’s death appears in court

The 36-year-old mother, of Langley’s Aaliyah Rosa, has been charged with second-degree murder

Troops heading to Lumby/Cherryville to lend a hand with wildfires

Canadian Armed Troops expected to be in the area by the end of the week

Thieves target tires and rims in Shuswap

Salmon Arm RCMP report two recent incidents, a van used in one theft was stolen in Surrey

VIDEO: Teen soccer phenomenon Alphonso Davies to visit B.C. kids camp

The 17-year-old Vancouver Whitecap player is one of the youngest players in MLS history

25-year-old Edmonton man pronounced dead on Shuswap Lake houseboat

Sicamous RCMP deem death to be non suspicious, BC Coroners Service investigating

Most Read