Health Minister Dix open to FSJ Hospital audit, wants action taken now

FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. – B. C. Health Minister Adrian Dix says he is open to an independent review of the Fort St…

FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. –  B. C. Health Minister Adrian Dix says he is open to an independent review of the Fort St. John Hospital but believes action needs to be taken now.

“Doing a review means that you don’t have to take action until the reviews are done. We do a review, we’ll hear about it in six months, we get some recommendations. There are some issues now we need to address, and that’s what I’m looking to do now,” said Dix during a media availability Wednesday.

Nursing shortages at the hospital have been an issue long before the pandemic and have only gotten worse over the past year. Dix says it’s not just a struggle for nurses but everyone at the hospital, including doctors, care aides and management.

Dix says he is working with Northern Health to address short-term problems and has spoken with MLA Dan Davies, Mayor Lori Ackerman, and the B.C. Nurses Union about issues the hospital is facing.

“So there are two sets of issues, what can we do immediately and we’re working on that. We’ll have some things to say about this shortly.”

The province is also looking at addressing the problem long-term by delivering health care training to more people in the north.

“I believe that while we can deal with issues in the short run, nursing is an extraordinarily skilled profession; we need to support people. We need to take action now to retain. And, of course, to recruit in the present climate. We have to take long-term steps and both of which we’re doing and happy to work with the community there.”

Christine Sorensen, president of the B.C. Nurses’ Union, told Energeticcity in April that the hospital has been overcapacity during the pandemic.

“Unfortunately, there are no additional nurses. So the current nurses employed in Fort St. John and Northern Health have to make up the shortfall. So that is where nurses work an extraordinary amount of overtime to try to meet patient care needs,’ said Sorensen.

An Auditor General of B.C. report released in 2018 showed Northern Health wasn’t doing enough to recruit and retain nurses. The report showed in April 2017, the health authority was short 121 Registered Nurses or 15% of its rural and remote workforce, and more than a quarter of remote Nurse Practitioner positions were also vacant.

As there are so many hours in a day, so many overtime hours nurses can work, Sorensen says patient care may be delayed or denied care.

“While we’ve had this concern for a very long time, actually, we’ve been raising this with two successive governments who seem not to have paid enough attention to the growing nursing shortage that has been created from failing to invest in nursing education and meet the needs of the BC’s labour market outlook study,” says Sorensen

The study released in 2019 states the province will need around 20,000 nurses by 2029. In the northeast, 240 job openings for nurses will need to be filled in the next eight years.

Fort St. John isn’t the only northeast community experiencing nursing shortages. Recently, Chetwynd General Hospital had to go on diversion due to the lack of staff and influx in patients.  Northern Health says it is currently addressing a nursing shortage in Tumbler Ridge— the hospital has one full-time nurse.

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