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Nursing shortages plaguing North Island communities

Island Health says challenges with the pandemic and low nursing staff have contributed to temporary emergency department closures on Vancouver Island.

Central and North Island clinical operations vice president James Hanson says staffing has always been a challenge in remote areas. He says this is because of a loss in available staff for the areas.

“Rural/remote has always been a challenge for us to recruit and retain staff,” said Hanson. “We used to rely quite heavily on agency nursing, so private nursing.

“Now systems, regional systems, provincial systems, national systems are relying on agency nursing, not just rural/remote but pretty much everywhere throughout.”

He adds that combined with the pandemic, housing has become an issue for nurses to stay.

“We are actually seeing an impact on housing, so the availability of housing is something we hear about quite regularly from folks that want to work in our regions,” said Hanson.

Hanson says they are working with municipal leaders and leasing apartments to try to attract individuals.

Despite this, many closures have been seen in Port Hardy, Port McNeill, Port Alice and more recently in Ucluelet.

Hanson says they have about 40 per cent nursing vacancies in both Port Hardy and Port McNeill and sick calls are adding to the strain.

One strategy they have been trying is to overstaff in those areas, according to Hanson. But that has presented its own challenges.

“The challenge has been recruiting people to the region,” he said. “So, while we have a plan in place and the funding in place and the nursing lines to do that, we haven’t been able to attract long-term staffers.”

The issue is puzzling for Hanson, who believes putting out more money will not solve the issue and it is a matter of community.

“I think it’s about fit, community and lifestyle and team and we have exceptionally good teams up there,” he said. “This is not where we want to be and for me personally I need to apologize to the community and say we are doing absolutely everything we can to make services available.”

BC Nurses Union president Aman Grewel says the problem will need to be fixed on all levels of government.

“Our provincial and territorial governments cannot fix this problem on their own,” said Grewal. “We need the federal government to act swiftly. The system needs a comprehensive health human resources plan to improve supports for the provinces in order to prevent the health-care system from collapsing.”

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