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Health-care vacancies grow in much of B.C. as advocacy ramps up

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Vacancies for health-care positions have grown dramatically since the start of the pandemic in British Columbia’s two smallest health authorities as mayors for rural and remote communities gear up to push for more resources.

Senior officials at Interior and Northern Health were presented with human resources statistics on Tuesday and Wednesday outlining steep increases in unfilled positions.

In a report titled “NH Board Human Resources Report,” the board of directors of Northern Health were told “20.31 per cent of our baseline positions are unfilled” with 55 per cent of hires leaving within three years of service, and that “health service providers are departing the organization at nearly the same rate as they are recruited.”

Interior Health received a presentation that included a slide describing the pre-pandemic vacancy rate being 5.1 per cent, soaring to 13.7 per cent now, with an emphasis on recruitment and retention. 

There are financial incentives for healthcare workers willing to relocate to rural communities, but sources tell CTV News Northern Health in particular is not considered a desirable employer due to allegations of workplace toxicity and a wave of resignations.

MAYORS RALLY AS A GROUP

Faced with rotating emergency department closures at their remote and rural hospitals and clinics, 19 mayors created what they’re calling the BC Rural Health Care Alliance last fall, and they’re now ramping up pressure on the provincial government to prioritize their unique needs and challenges.

Their co-chair is emphasizing that a single emergency department closure can make for a treacherous journey, especially at this time of year.

“With these mountains, we're two or three hours on a good day and in the winter months it's tragic, actually, as a lot of these folks are seniors,” said Grand Forks Mayor Everett Baker. “

We’ve had some real issues and felt it was time to advocate as one voice to go to the provincial government to say ,'You need to focus and you need to spend time on rural British Columbia, because our healthcare is slipping very quickly.'”

He’s encouraged, however, by premier David Eby’s appointment of Jennifer Rice as parliamentary secretary for rural health last month. In his letter to the North Coast MLA, Eby directs her to support the health minister and “Work with rural, remote, and First Nations communities as well as stakeholders to identify gaps in health care services, with a particular focus on pregnancy care and reproductive health.”

 

COULD ADVENTURE AND SERVICE LURE WORKERS?

While some British Columbians chose to move to smaller communities during the pandemic with the option of remote work, not enough health-care workers have joined them in those communities.

The current president of Doctors of BC is encouraging those who are feeling burnt out or have walked away from medical careers to consider temporary backfill assignments in communities where their skills would be valued to see how they like it.

“Please come to rural family practice or rural specialty care, for the weekend, for a month, or for a lifetime – they'd be happy to have you,” said Dr. Josh Greggain, who was himself filling in for a doctor in Hope, B.C. when he spoke with CTV News.

“There are people living on Vancouver Island and flying up north to work for a week or two at a time and they have been for years.” https://www.locumsruralbc.ca/

Greggain described the work as adventurous, but also rewarding since years of repeat visits to smaller communities have still formed powerful personal relationships with patients that continue to motivate him to travel as part of his own practice.

“It takes a bit of courage, as a physician, to do something you haven't done for a while,” he said of practicing to the full extent of one’s medical abilities.

“There’s now real-time virtual support through accessible technology, so we can support you – I’ve been able to support young physicians in northern B.C. doing cardioversions or nurses doing sutures in remote places.”

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