Northern Health addresses concerns surrounding healthcare challenges in Fort Nelson

FORT NELSON, B.C. – Northern Health has provided information to Fort Nelson residents following concerns raise…

FORT NELSON, B.C. – Northern Health has provided information to Fort Nelson residents following concerns raised about recent changes to healthcare services in the area.

In a release on Wednesday, Angela De Smit, the health authority’s Chief Operating Officer, provided an update on the sterile processing department, the CT scan business case, and lab services.

“We would like to provide some additional information around these changes and the reasons behind them to help better understand the work underway to reduce impact to health services,” said De Smit in a release.

Last May, the health authority informed Fort Nelson doctors that it was not renewing the sterilizer service contract due to the lack of usage over the previous two years and the costs associated with the contract and equipment.

De Smit says the sterilizer had been used an average of once per week and primarily for non-NH instruments.

With the ability to send instruments on regular trips to Fort St. John, De Smit says the impact on Fort Nelson Hospital is small to non-existent.

“We are not removing the position associated with the sterilizer as there are other tasks that this position supports,” said De Smit.

Northern Health is also looking at bringing a CT scanner to the hospital after local doctors have strongly advocated for the machine.

“Once the business case is complete, it will be reviewed by the NH Capital Planning Working Group for funding consideration.”

Another primary concern raised among residents, council and MLA Dan Davies is the lack of lab services in the area.

In a letter to the health authority earlier this year, Davies said he was getting more and more phone calls from frustrated Fort Nelson residents about the services.

De Smit says that lab services were impacted after the Chief Lab Technologist and the second Lab Technologist both gave notice and left their roles in October of 2021.

“In a series of meetings in September and October, a team made up of members from Northern Health, local Fort Nelson physicians, Diagnostics, Technologists and more, met to develop strategies to limit the impact of the staffing challenges on patient care and outpatient lab needs in Fort Nelson,” said De Smit in the statement.

After several meetings with local health professionals to devise a plan, the health authority increased the transport of lab specimens from Fort Nelson to Fort St. John to twice a day. Additional equipment was also purchased, including a hemoglobin testing machine, to provide local testing.

Local nurses also received additional training to conduct point-of-care testing for most urgent and emergent tests. This means not all tests will need to be sent to Fort St. John.

With help from other Northeast communities, lab staff were able to clear outstanding lab requisitions in December with another “blitz” planned for this month.

De Smit says there will be a longer turnaround time for less urgent tests, however, it will be temporary as the health authority continues to try and recruit needed staff.

Lab equipment in Fort Nelson will stay in the hospital but have been decommissioned until new lab techs are hired.

“We are actively recruiting for the Lab Technologist roles and are offering a $10,000 recruitment incentive in addition to relocation allowance. In the interim, we are also attempting to contract Agency Technologists to fill these gaps,” said De Smit.

Northern Health has contracted agency lab tech for six months, and several tests have recently resumed at Fort Nelson General Hospital, De Smit added.

A laboratory clerk position has been filled to support local lab operations, and a full-time lab assistant position has been created.

“Although there are always challenges associated with healthcare in smaller communities, Northern Health is committed to ensuring quality healthcare services are available to all those who live in and around Fort Nelson.”

Fort Nelson and area have faced many impacts to health services for many years that have been amplified due to many factors, including the pandemic.

The Northern Rockies Regional Municipality hired a healthcare advocate in 2021 to provide council and stakeholders with issues the area is facing and a plan moving forward.

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