Island Health says it’s doing its best to recruit nurses for places like Port Hardy, but the union says it’s hard to keep them.
The health authority says the ongoing issue of night-time ER closures at the Port Hardy hospital is mainly due to a shortage of doctors but this week it is shutting down every night until Friday morning because there aren’t enough nurses.
“In Port Hardy we really struggle with retaining nurses and recruiting but specifically retaining,” said Kelley Charters, who sits on the regional council for the BC Nurse’s Union. “It’s really a difficult place to work, it’s very remote and they struggle with day-to-day staffing up there.”
It takes two Registered Nurses and one Licensed Practical Nurse to run the hospital on any given shift but that includes working the ER. Like many hospitals in B.C. she says the hospital is over capacity at times and it’s leading to burnout.
“I know the nurses between Port Hardy and Port McNeill travel quite a bit between those two communities trying to keep at least one of the ER’s open but it’s a real struggle,” she said. “They can only do so much and they can only work so many hours in a row and they’re burnt out.”
Nurses who work for private agencies are commonly used to fill the gaps but demand for them is higher than ever at all levels of health care.
“So those nurses who may have worked in Port Hardy before and may have lived in Alberta can now choose to work in Vancouver as an example versus Hardy so those situations are stretching us,” said James Hanson, Island Health clinical operations vice-president for the mid and north Island.
But the nurses union says there are fixable problems that can be addressed.
“An improvement in housing, more flexible schedules, more childcare options for our young nurses who want to go up there,” added Charters. “Paying them for their time to travel because it is quite a journey to travel up to the north Island and all they get now is money for their gas.”
Island Health told CHEK News it is, working with the Ministry of Health and other partners, and that “significant” progress has been made in securing physician coverage but that the nursing shortage continues to be an issue.
“Island Health continues to take action – working with our partners we are expanding our retention and recruitment activities, have increased our access to travel nurse programs, invested in added support resources within the hospitals, enhanced our local leadership and educator teams and are investing in infrastructure improvements,” the health authority said in a statement.
“Island Health continues to undertake local, national and international recruitment campaigns focused on attracting staff to the region, and this work is ongoing. Despite the success in securing physician coverage and many other professional and support staff, it is expected the ongoing national nursing shortage will persist, impacting service interruptions.”