Northern Health in talks with nurses’ union

Lynsey Kitching


With the need to have two nursing emergency care positions filled, as well as home care nursing needs in Tumbler Ridge, Northern Health is proposing to incorporate the two nursing positions into two full-time job openings.

Back in November 29, 2011, Greg Amos wrote an article titled Northern Health commits to planning for Tumbler Ridge about Northern Health announcing its Master Plan for the Tumbler Ridge Clinic.

Jaret Clay, Northern Health’s Health Service Administrator for the South Peace, was quoted as saying, “The study will ‘go beyond beliefs and look at what we’re actually needing, in a well-researched way.”

“The Master Plan will likely have a large bearing over how local health care takes shape over the next five years,” said Clay. “The thing Tumbler Ridge really has going for it is a lot of planned growth,” he said. “With that information, it gives us a much better ability to react to that change when it comes.”

Almost two years later, Tumbler Ridge is here trying to find ways to recruit nurses to the two available emergency/critical care nursing positions in town. There is now a position open for home care as well. This need has promoted Northern Health to change the FTE for the emergency care positions. Changing the FTE as pointed out by Dr. Charles Helm and Clay as well, would be a much more attractive opening. Clay says, “The decision to have 3.0 has been made.”

This changes the two current emergency openings, from 0.6 FTEs to two full-time (1.0) positions. However, these nurses are also going to have to do home care.

Though Northern Health has made the decision, the authority is still in works with the unions trying to establish the job descriptions for these new FTE positions. “We are still in the process of working with the union to determine whether to change the job description, or work with them around using current job descriptions. They [the union] will likely be ok with us making a change.”

Clay says it is the full-time position itself that will start to attract more nurses, even if they are doing emergency and home care because nursing functions and abilities overlap. “I think what it comes down to is the time put towards it. It’s about us increasing the time,” says Clay, saying Northern Health will be providing good training for people so they can appropriately provide service.

“The scope of their positions allows them to do that. It doesn’t mean everyone will feel comfortable; that is where the training comes in. Not all nurses will feel the same comfort level in all segments. It will be how we identify training needs for people,” says Clay.

The potential for a job description change for the 3.0 FTE nursing positions will depend on the talks between Northern Health and the BC Nurses’ Union (BCNU).

Though contacted for comment, TR News was unable to connect with the BCNU. We hope to have their comments next week.

The Ministry of Health differed their comments to Northern Health, though requests were made to speak with Minister Terry Lake or a representative from the Ministry who could speak to the staffing shortage. They did suggest looking at the rural practice programs offered through the province. There are three incentive programs for nurses coming out of BC, however the nurses would have had to come out of a BC secondary school to apply. The Ministry of Health explains there are student loan forgiveness programs for recently graduated nurses to work in underserved areas of the province. By working for three years in an underserved area, a newly graduated nurse can have their student loans completely paid off. Tumbler Ridge is one of these communities.

The other two incentives are for nurses looking to work anywhere in Canada. These incentives include The Nurses Education Bursary (NEB) a provincial program that provides up to $1 million in bursary funding, awarded each year to qualified nursing applicants who demonstrate the greatest financial need; and funding to create more educational space for nursing students to enable an increase in nursing students.

There have also been provincially instituted recruitment firms, trying to make it easier for nurses and physicians from outside of the province to find positions in BC. The main organization is Health Match BC (HMBC). John Mabbott, Executive Director for HMBC says, “In places like Tumbler Ridge there is a localized shortage.”

Mobbott explains some general duty nurses and new graduates are “struggling to find employment” in BC, and that there is “currently a low rate of unfilled, difficult to fill vacancies” compared to 2008-2010. This landscape changes when talking about emergency room, operating room, critical care, intensive care, and pediatric care nurses, who as Mabbott says, “require additional training.”

So why is it difficult for nurses who have graduated as a general duty nurse to become a nurse with specialized training? Mabbott explains, “Emergency nursing is specialized training. Nurses must take a course through BCIT [British Columbia Institute of Technology], and train to be an emergency nurse. Emergency nurses are highly skilled with additional training and they must have that. Same as critical care nurses.”

For this reason, emergency rooms around the province report a shortage of highly trained emergency nurses. Shortly after his interview, Mabbott was off to an “Emergency nurse conference” he says “to see about attracting some to BC. We have targeted them as an area of need in all areas of the province.”

With the need to have the additional training, Mabbott explains it can be expensive and time consuming for nurses to commit to the next level. “It costs up to $20,000 in tuition and materials to become an emergency room nurse,” says Mabbott.

A new grad coming out of a registered nurse program, must still have several years’ experience as a general duty nurse before they can apply for an emergency or critical care position. Mabbott says Health Match BC is going to be trekking across Canada and the US looking for emergency nurses. “Many have gone to the US to further their carriers, and they have received additional training down there. We hope to find Canadian nurses and bring them back to Canada.”

Mabbott also explains they are also looking at funding from the province through the health authorities for nurse practitioners in rural communities. Mabbott says, “Not doctors, but quasi-doctors. They have Masters Degrees and extensive training, which allows them to do things like diagnosis and prescription.”

Health Match BC also reports there are a lot of nurses being recruited from other provinces and countries, but he says, “Whether or not they want to work outside the lower mainland is their decision.”