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Amid staffing crisis, nurses at northern B.C. hospital also facing abuse: health officials

Click to play video: 'Northern B.C. hospital facing critical nursing shortage amid COVID-19 staff abuse' Northern B.C. hospital facing critical nursing shortage amid COVID-19 staff abuse
Amid rising cases of COVID-19 and lagging vaccination rates, Northern Health says Fort St. John Hospital is also facing a critical nurse staffing shortage in its ER. Kristen Robinson reports. – Sep 19, 2021

Amid rising cases of COVID-19 and lagging vaccination rates, one of northern B.C.’s key health-care facilities is also facing a critical staffing shortage, according to the Northern Health Authority.

Northern Health says there are just five permanent registered nurses staffing the emergency department at the Fort St. John Hospital — a facility that should run on 20 nursing positions.

“This requires staff to be pulled from other services to support ER operations. This means that in some cases, there may be just one nurse available on a given shift,” the health authority wrote in a Facebook post.

Read more: B.C. extends COVID-19 restrictions to Northern Health region as cases mount

Making matters worse, the health authority said its exhausted and overworked staff are facing “brutal criticism from the public and insults on their shifts.”

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“This is unacceptable,” it says.

“Every day when they show up for work, they are putting the needs of the community of Fort St. John ahead of their own and those of their families at home.”

The Fort St. John hospital has 44 acute care beds and three ICUs, serving a population of more than 22,000 people.

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Global News has requested an interview with officials from Northern Health but did not hear back before publication.

COVID-19 cases are surging in Northern Health. On Friday, the health region reported a record high 161 new cases, nearly double the number reported in Vancouver Coastal Health, which has more than four times the population.

The region had both the highest COVID-19 positivity rate in the province (21 per cent, compared to the B.C. average of six per cent) and the lowest vaccination rate (74.9 per cent of eligible people with one dose vs the provincial average of 86.5 per cent).

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Read more: Rapid response team sent to Fort St. James as community grapples with 39 COVID-19 cases

Fort St. John Mayor Lori Ackerman said COVID-19 has only revealed cracks in the region’s health-care system that persisted for more than a decade.

She pointed to a 2018 report by B.C. Auditor General Carol Bellringer, which found Northern Health had failed to meet its requirements in recruiting nurses, leading to diminished health-care service for the region.

While the report made multiple recommendations, Ackerman said the situation has not improved.

“Have I seen a change? No,” she said. “I would say it has gotten worse.”

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B.C. health minister announces $6.38M to retain and recruit northern health workers – Sep 14, 2021

Asked for comment, the Ministry of Health referred Global News to Health Minister Adrian Dix’s announcement of $6.38 million for programs and incentives to attract health-care workers to the north.

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In its Facebook post, Northern Health also referenced the funding and said it was in the process of hiring four more nurses, though acknowledged they wouldn’t be in place until at least January.

Read more: COVID-19: B.C. reports 11 deaths, 768 new cases as hospitalizations near 300

“It’s a band-aid, but it’s a direct result of the work we have done to bring this to (Dix’s) attention,” Ackerman said.

“We have been engaged in this for many years.”

In the meantime, Ackerman urged locals to get vaccinated as the region’s health-care system strains.

“We could be doing a post-mortem on Northern Health, and I would lay that at the feet of the people who have decided this vaccine is not necessary,” she said.

Ackerman also pleaded with her constituents to be respectful of those working every day in health care settings.

“We should actually take the time to appreciate each and every person who is in the health-care industry and thank them for the yeoman’s job they have done through this COVID, and through the last 10 years really, up in the north,” she said.

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