FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. – Delegates of the North Central Local Government Association Convention gathered at the Pomeroy Hotel and Conference Center Wednesday afternoon to view a healthcare presentation from local government leaders and health experts.

The presentation touched on the many issues the healthcare system in Northern B.C. is facing, including staff shortages and its impacts on patient care.

“Without a timely diagnosis and treatment, a lot of times outcomes aren’t good. So there is a tremendous impact behind the nursing shortage and also the shortage of physicians and other healthcare professionals,” Vice President of the BC Nurses Union, Adriane Gear said.

Gear adds that the shortage also adds to the erosion of health services.

“I’m sure many of your communities have experienced either temporary or permanent cuts to service, like in an emergency room situation. That’s certainly not unique to the north, but, I feel it probably has a greater impact on those communities,” Gear continued.

Gear says the staff shortage has other consequences that some are uncomfortable talking about.

“What we’re seeing due to the increased shortage of staff and the delayed access to care or perceived denial of care is higher levels of aggression and violence.”

She says that the shortage is further complicated by over-capacity in hospitals. Gear says these issues are taking their toll on nurses and other healthcare staff.

“There are huge consequences in addition to the impact on patient care. Certainly, our members are experiencing fatigue, burnout, and moral injury. When you’re not able to provide essential care because there’s simply not enough qualified staff, this has a huge impact.”

She says 82 per cent of nurses that responded to a poll done by the BCNU during the third wave of the pandemic are perceiving a negative mental health impact due to the experience of the pandemic and the staffing crisis.

Raelene Marceau, a primary care nurse practitioner, associate professor, and coordinator of the Northern Baccalaureate Nursing Program at UNBC says that when healthcare systems experience significant shortages of healthcare staff they cannot treat chronic health conditions effectively.

“This becomes a huge increased burden to the system because we can’t manage these people appropriately. Our vulnerable populations, our homeless, our indigenous, women, immigrant populations, they all become impacted,” Marceau said.

She adds that when this happens, practitioners struggle to coordinate care and tend to operate on their own instead of working as a team with other healthcare professionals.

“We begin to practice in silos and that’s the last thing we want in healthcare. We can’t harness appropriate technology when we are short of practitioners,” Marceau said.

The NCLGA AGM & Conference runs until May 6th.

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Spencer Hall is a news reporter for energeticcity.ca and a recent graduate of the British Columbia Institute of Technology’s Radio Arts & Entertainment program. Growing up in Northwest B.C. made Spencer aware of the importance of local journalism, independent media, and reconciliation. In his spare time, you can find Spencer reading, playing video games, or at the FSJ dog park with his dog, Teddy.