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Fort St. John byelection: What should the city be doing to shrink the nursing shortage?

Candidates talk college nursing program, marketing Fort St. John values, and providing families with amenities
Fort St. John byelection canadidates discuss nursing recruitment at the All Candidates Forum, May 3, 2021.

Northern Health has more than 200 job postings for healthcare workers in northeast B.C. including openings for 107 registered nurses, and 30 for licensed practical nurses. Of the open nursing jobs, 62 are posted in Fort St. John. 

City council byelection candidates were asked at the All Candidates Forum about what they think the city should be doing to improve the recruitment and retention of nurses.

Here are their responses:

Sarah MacDougall: This is near and dear to my heart and this is not new to the pandemic. We have had nursing shortages in our city as long as I have worked for Northern Health. We need to focus on creating a community that workers want to come to and to stay in, to marketing ourselves toward people whose values would align with what we have here in Fort St. John. So that active lifestyle, the vibrant community, the small town mentality with a big heart, hard workers.

We also need to take a step back, get into our schools and grow our own so we are encouraging young students to get into the healthcare field, or other fields that are in need so that we are having people who are born and raised in this region getting the schooling needed — for example, we do have the nursing program here locally now — so that they come back and work in Fort St. John. We know that people who are from here are more likely to return here, or stay here, once they’ve been educated.

Trystan Jones: Just like Sarah, this is a topic that is near and dear to my heart as well. I’ve been standing shoulder to shoulder with nurses all throughout this pandemic at one of the largest hospitals in British Columbia. They have done some tireless work and I really empathize with them right now as this pandemic draws on.

One of the things we need to address and I think be realistic about is we need to instill trust in the healthcare system and we need to instill trust in the science. I think there has been a lack of honesty about how we feel toward healthcare, especially during this pandemic, in our community. We need to provide a place where nurses feel safe doing their jobs and also feel accepted doing their jobs. A lot of nurses in British Columbia are minorities and we need to provide a community that is safe and accepting of their profession and the people that they are.

Jim Lequiere: This has been an issue for many, many years. I’ve lived up here for 35 years and we always have trouble retaining doctors and nurses and healthcare professionals. It’s going to be an ongoing problem.

We have now an economic development group working for the city and it's their job to sell the city. So between Northern Health and the economic development group, we have to address that, why we can’t doctors and nurses and healthcare professionals up here.

It’s a really family friendly city, and it's just a matter of advertising. The fact of the matter is we do live in the north and lot of families like to live in the south. So we just have to do better job of selling Fort St. John to the doctors and nurses and healthcare professionals.

Tom Whitton: Getting nurses to start here is really, really important. Programs like the nursing program that is opening up at Northern Lights College here in September will be a huge catalyst in making sure that we can grow our own and keep them in Fort St. John.

On top of that, we need to ensure we have the amenities to keep these people here long term. Not everybody has the exact same interests in life, I’m sure everybody can appreciate that. But we need to diversify on what activities we have available for people. Not everybody’s going to like just going for hockey. Some people are going to like rock climbing in the middle of winter. Whether that’s a new rock climbing wall at the multiplex going on, aspects like that are why people stay in the community, as well as giving back. We need to champion our not-for-profits, to bring these people in and make them a part of their community. 

Jon Gosselin: Sarah and Trystan said some very important facts: we do need to start them young, we need to get things going on in the schools. That nursing program that’s coming into Northern Lights College is a big bonus for Fort St. John.

When I first thought about running, I immediately talked to the council members and said, hey, how can we get a program in our high school, so that when high school students graduate they want to get into this field. We need to promote how good of a field it is to our younger generation.

I also agree with Tom, we got to have those things in place for families when they come up here. I’m a big fan of volunteering at non-profits, I work with them every day. If we can get people more involved in helping the community, they’ll want to stay in the community. 

Watch a replay of the May 3 All Candidate Forum below:

Election dates

Voting will take place at the Pomeroy Sport Centre May 15, with advance voting opportunities May 5 and May 12.

Special voting opportunities will take place May 13 at Peace Villa from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.; Peace Lutheran Apartments from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m.; and Heritage Manor from 4 to 5 p.m.

A special voting opportunity will take place May 15 at the Fort St. John Hospital from 1:30 to 3 p.m.

The new councillor will take their Oath of Office on May 25.

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