'Exhausted, overworked and facing brutal criticism': B.C. health authority appeals for patience, vaccination amid staffing crisis
A B.C. health authority is sounding the alarm about a staffing crisis in one one of its hospitals.
In a Facebook post Friday, Northern Health said staff in Fort St. John are "exhausted, overworked and facing brutal criticism from the public and insults on their shifts."
Calling the behaviour "unacceptable," the health authority explained that the emergency department at Fort St. John Hospital has only five permanent registered nurses. The department has 20 total nursing positions, Northern Health said.
"This requires nursing staff to be pulled from other services to support ER operations," the health authority said. "This means that in some cases there may be just one nurse available on a given shift."
Northern Health's statements match those of health-care workers around the province who have spoken to CTV News Vancouver in recent weeks.
They've described already under-resourced hospitals being stretched even thinner by the surge in hospitalizations during the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The problem predates the coronavirus, however, and it has been compounded by some health-care workers leaving the profession or quitting full-time positions to take part-time roles where they can better control their hours and avoid burnout.
On Friday, nurses held rallies at the constituency offices of Premier John Horgan and Health Minister Adrian Dix to demand more action to address the chronic understaffing of B.C. health-care facilities.
In its Facebook post, Northern Health said it's doing "everything in (its) power" to address the shortage of nurses in Fort St. John.
"We are currently working to recruit and hire for these nursing positions, recognizing the applications are very limited," the health authority said, adding that it expects to fill four full-time positions by January.
"In addition, the health minister announced on Sept. 14 that Northern Health will receive $6.38 million ... to help recruit and retain health care workers in Northern B.C. and largely focused on the Northeast," Northern Health added. "While the work has already started to put this investment to use, relief will not be immediate."
The health authority also noted the impact of COVID-19 cases on the situation, encouraging everyone in the region to get vaccinated.
Northern Health has the lowest rate of fully vaccinated residents among B.C. health authorities, and northeastern B.C. has especially low levels of vaccination.
Just 50 per cent of eligible residents of the Peace River South local health area - those ages 12 and older - have received both doses of a COVID-19 vaccine. In the Peace River North and Fort Nelson local health areas, the rate is 51 per cent.
Provincewide, vaccination rates are much higher, with nearly 79 per cent of all B.C. residents ages 12 and older having received both doses as of Friday.