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FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. — The BC Nurses Union held a rally in Fort St. John on Tuesday to connect with local nurses, recognize concerns, and share in frustrations with the healthcare system—both locally and province-wide— on the doorstep of a new contract with the provincial government. 

Aman Grewal, president of the BC Nurses Union, led the rally and spoke to the frustrations local nurses and their families have been facing in the region.

“Northern nurses are gathered here today because you’ve been let down by your employer,” Grewal told the gathered crowd in Fort St. John’s festival plaza, some still in scrubs. 

“We’re constantly told we need to do more, but we are never given the resources to do more with. We are treated with disrespect and disregard by an employer who doesn’t want to acknowledge the current crisis in healthcare,” she continued.

Several frustrations voiced were echoed by the nurses gathered, including a lack of respect, an increase in violence against nurses, and increasing burnout.

Major nursing shortages, which cause decreasing patient safety and force carefully educated specialists to become generalists, was also an issue brought up.

Nurses gather at the festival plaza.

The rally comes on the eve of upcoming negotiations between the BC Nurses Union and the provincial government, Fort St. John public health educator and long-time critical care nurse Krisha Dodds said. 

“The union is finally able to come out and start to touch base with some of the smaller communities and hear their concerns and get that member engagement again. So that’s what they’re doing,” she said. 

Over her twenty-two-year career, Dodds said that Northern Health (the healthcare authority responsible for Fort St. John and surrounding areas) struggles less with recruitment than they do with retention.

“Northern Health has done a typically great job in recruiting. I think where they struggle is retaining…That’s been a big struggle,” she said. 

Raising retention is an important element to any solution, she says—and so are increased seats for nurse education in the north. The current program was “a long time coming,” Dodds said, “but it is excellent.” 

Residents join BC Nurses Union rally.

Issues that have plagued the northern half of the province’s healthcare system expanded to the remainder of British Columbia in the last few years. 

Fort St. John’s mayor, Lori Ackerman, acknowledged this when she spoke at the rally. 

 “The local situation isn’t all that local anymore,” she said. 

Ackerman recognized disparities in healthcare services between rural and urban centres, as well as northern and southern communities. She also outlined the efforts of local politicians—both herself and others—to demand solutions from higher authorities.

BC Nurses Union representative discusses healthcare with local residents

“We continue to fight for you, just from the other side,” Ackerman promised. “And we will meet in the middle.”

The BCNU postponed negotiations over a new contract with the provincial government until autumn, Dodds said. The previous provincial contract expired on March 31st.

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Grace Giesbrecht

Grace Giesbrecht is a news reporter for EnergeticCity.ca who recently graduated from Trinity Western University with a bachelor of arts in Media + Communications. She was born and raised just outside of Fort St. John. She began reporting for her university’s student newspaper and interned with Ottawa Life Magazine where she developed a passion for asking questions, telling stories, and the written word. In her free time, you can find her drinking coffee, snowboarding, or reading novels.