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Northern nurses struggle with staff shortage

Northern Health having more than 300 current postings for nursing positions puts immense pressure on the current nurses working across the region to provide adequate levels of service, the president of the B.C. Nurses Union said.
FSJ hospital
The Fort St. John Hospital.

Northern Health having more than 300 current postings for nursing positions puts immense pressure on the current nurses working across the region to provide adequate levels of service, the president of the B.C. Nurses Union said.

"We know that the auditor general has already identified the north as having significant staffing issues,” Christine Sorensen said in an interview. “That the north is already staffing about 25 per cent below what is needed. We also know that provincially we have the lowest rate per capita of nurses per patient population."

Last year there was $162 million of overtime paid, which worked out to about 2 million hours of nursing care, which equals about 1,200 full time workers.

By 2030, there will be more than 25,000 nurses needed above the 55,000 that are already in place in BC, Sorensen noted.

"Then add on to that the significant understaffing in the north," she said. "The north has struggled with recruitment and more importantly with retention of new nurses."

The additional pressure of working through the current COVID-19 pandemic is extra hard, both professionally and personally, for nurses.

“Right now nurses are dealing with the overall stress of the healthcare system and the burden that is starting to come with dealing with a population that is extremely anxious because of loss of work, fear of the unknown around this disease and how long we'll be in these public health measures,” Sorensen explained. “The nurses themselves carry these around with them because they too have spouses and family members who are facing unemployment, or facing illness and then they come to work.”

"And if people are seeing nurses crying, I'm not surprised," she added. "This is a situation of high stress. Typically nurses will cry in the break room or in their cars or at home and yet they steel themselves to go back and do the job."

It’s not just nurses working in emergency rooms and long-term care facilities feeling the strain. Nursing shortages in the region are also felt in other areas of the health care system, from mental health to addiction treatment.

"I commend those nurses who continue to go and work there and some of those nurses may also work in other places, such as acute care or long-term care and they see the pressures in those places or are being asked to work more in those facilities, leaving the treatment centres short staffed and when you have a limited number of nursing resources a health authority will move them around to where it's the priority,” Sorensen said.