TUMBLER RIDGE NURSING SHORTAGE

It is 3:30am, Saturday and it is a long weekend. Your infant child wakes up screaming and he is burning up with a temperature, he is breathing rapidly and he is not calming down with comfort. You take the child?s temperature and you are surprised by just how high it is. What do you do? If it is your first child, you probably panic and give the child some Tylenol and hope the fever goes down. If it is your second child, you may go and see just how high the fever has to be before you need to worry.

This is the same position I found myself in with my young child not too long ago. His temperature had gone up and down for a few days. We figured it was teething. Then, that very scary number appeared on the thermometer.

Knowing there were no nurses on duty at that time, we called 811 to speak to a nurse and assess the situation. After a series of questions, the last thing that was told to me was, ?hang up and call 911.?

Shortly after placing the 911 call, paramedics arrived. It was going to be a short ambulance ride, but a necessary one. We were told by the paramedics the on-call nurse had been called and was waiting at the clinic. Knowing the call was for a young child, the nurse went into the clinic to be ready for him.

My child was assessed quickly and was released. However, the care from the nurse did not stop there. Early the next morning, she called to see how he was doing.

We are truly lucky to have nurses in Tumbler Ridge who go beyond the call of duty to ensure the people they come into contact with are serviced with high quality health care, even when services have been reduced.

In a media release from Northern Health dated June 25th, 2009, residents of Tumbler Ridge were told, ?effective July 6th and until further notice, on-call health staff in Tumbler Ridge will provide 911 responses only.? This change is necessary to ?help ease the burden on nursing resources after hours.?

This means residents of Tumbler Ridge can no longer call the health centre to have the on-call nurse meet them after hours.

There is a nursing shortage in all of BC, especially in rural communities. A simple search on the Northern Health web-site proves Tumbler Ridge is not the only community who is in need of more nurses. Emergency care is just one of the areas that need more nurses. Chetwynd, Dawson Creek and Fort St. John are all actively searching for nurses in areas like emergency care, acute care and public health.

In a phone interview with Karen Davis, health administrator for the Peace region, she explained finding nurses for rural communities, like Tumbler Ridge, present more challenges. It is not a matter of finding a nurse to fill a position. A person who chooses to work in a rural community has to be committed to a lifestyle change. Also, some people are reluctant to move to Tumbler Ridge due to lack of work for their spouse. The pull of living in a large urban area is also a challenge. Young people, especially if they are single, prefer to be in a larger area.

A nurse was set to come to Tumbler Ridge earlier in the year but unfortunately, due to an announcement of layoffs at one of the local mines, the decision was made not to move to Tumbler Ridge after all. The absence of work for the spouse was a major factor in the decision change.

The search to fill the nursing position in Tumbler Ridge has been a long one. Finding an experienced, seasoned nurse, with a strong acute care background is proving difficult. Therefore, Northern Health is flexible and is willing to hire nurses who are new to the field and who are willing to learn. The two nurses currently working in Tumbler Ridge are ?committed to mentoring new nurses?, explained Davis. In addition, Northern Health is committed to provide any additional training to a nurse if needed.

With the search for a new nurse for Tumbler Ridge not gaining ground, Northern Health hired an agency nurse from Ontario to provide a much-needed break for the two nurses in Tumbler Ridge. Hiring an agency nurse is just a band-aid for a wound that does not seem to heal. The cost of an agency nurse is excessive. When hired through an agency, nurses are provided travel, housing, high wages and even bonuses for their short term contracts. (http://www.selectmedconnections.com/)

To entice new nurses, Northern Health offers a good recruitment package that is tailored to the distance travelled to the new community. Some things included in the package are first month?s rent, costs of setting up a new home and even the cost for transporting a car. The District of Tumbler Ridge will be looking into offering additional incentives for nurses to move to Tumbler Ridge.

In a Policies and Priorities Meeting August 17th, Council brainstormed possible incentives like housing bonuses and specialized training to entice new people to Tumbler Ridge. Having a presence during the recruitment process was also discussed.

The District?s willingness to work with Northern Health is appreciated, commented Davis. Hopefully, with added incentives, Tumbler Ridge will find someone to fill the nursing position sooner rather than later.