(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

Rental housing proposed for Kelowna’s BC Tree Fruit site

Proposal will add 148 new rental units on old packinghouse site

Kelowna-based pot chain acquired by international cannabis company

Compass Cannabis Clinic acquired in multi-million dollar deal by Isodiol International Inc.

Life on Munson Pond looking pretty bright

Earth Day event in Kelowna showcases work that’s four years in the making

Reel Reviews: Parlour games or video games

We say, “Rampage is silly fun and Truth or Dare is just silly”

Rain barrels, compost bins popular on Earth Day in Kelowna

Regional District’s annual sale sees all rain barrels sell in 90 minutes

REPLAY: B.C. this week in video

In case you missed it, here’s a look at replay-worthy highlights from across the province this week

NHL playoffs weekly roundup

Maple Leafs look to stay alive tonight as they face elimination against Boston on home ice

Update: Penticton sign gets upgrade

$10-million competition for Pentic-ten

Woman found dead in car in Kamloops

A woman was found dead in a car in Kamloops, while two men also found unconscious

Electric vehicles more affordable than you think: BC Hydro

Myths blocking road to electric vehicle adoption

Kinder Morgan bungled pipeline public relations: poll

The survey suggests 58 per cent of Canadians believe the company is to blame for poor perceptions

Plane makes a surprise landing on the Coquihalla

Social media was alive Sunday night with pictures from Coquihalla commuters.

Royal baby: It’s a boy for Kate and William

The Duchess of Cambridge has given birth to her third child, a boy weighing 8 pounds, 7 ounces.

Vancouver’s Chinese community receives apology for historical discrimination

More than 500 people gathered at the Chinese Cultural Centre for the event

Most Read