Northern B.C. short on registered nurses say B.C. Auditor General

B.C.'s Auditor General is concerned Northern B.C. has a shortage of registered nurses. Global News/ File

British Columbia’s Auditor General says Northern Health did not meet it’s requirements for finding registered nurses and nurse practitioners. Carol Bellringer found the shortage has led to diminished primary health care service for many people in northern B.C.

“RN’s were challenged to meet patient needs and worried about patient safety due to reduced patient supervision, missed equipment checks and fatigue causing reduced awareness, decision making and motor skills as a result of long hours,” said Bellringer.

The Auditor General’s office found Northern Health was 121 RNs short of what was needed and a quarter of the available positions were unfilled. The report found that in many communities the RN or NP covered the majority of the direct patient care.

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Along with reduced patient safety, a shortage of nurses led to nurse burnout, higher than expected overtime costs, emotional strain and a requirement to fill shifts from outside agencies. Northern Health faces numerous challenges in getting staff, including weather, a lack of amenities in many communities, and a lack of housing supply.

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Bellringer also found that one of the solutions to solve the shortage should be to train more registered nurses in the community.

“Northern Health could influence this by working with other organizations like the University of Northern British Columbia and the ministries of Health and Advanced Education,” said Bellringer. “There is research indicating that areas close to a nursing school enjoy a greater supply of registered nurses. ”

The Auditor General report found Northern Health is already taking some initial steps for recruitment and retention. Those include a formal employee referral program, staff recognition programs and multiple targeted marketing campaigns.

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