Cleanliness and good health go hand in hand, especially in places where sick people are being treated, and a recent province-wide audit determined Northern Health facilities rank among the cleanest in B.C.
In a fall 2011 study, Westech External Auditors conducted cleanliness tests at all 34 hospitals and extended care facilities in the Northern Health Authority's jurisdiction, which encompasses the entire northern half B.C., and all exceeded the standard passing grade of 85 per cent.
Among hospitals, the scores ranged from a high of 96.11 per cent for the newly-constructed Fort St. John General Hospital and Peace Villa to 86.95 per cent for Northern Haida Gwai Hospital and Health Centre. UHNBC in Prince George achieved a score of 91.69 per cent.
"In terms of rank order in the last housekeeping audit, we did perform the best of the health authorities in the province," said Northern Health CEO Cathy Ulrich. "Within Northern Health, there were improvements in many of our facilities across the North. Our housekeeping staff is very focused on how their work contributes to quality care for patients and that's what makes the difference."
Northern Health has been working the past two years to establish clear housekeeping procedures and standards and has given housekeeping staff more training and better equipment to get the job done. Significant improvements have been achieved in keeping floors clean, a direct result of the purchase of new automated floor scrubbers to replace the old mop and bucket method.
"We're spending less time on the floors and more time making sure patient rooms are up to standard," said Andrew Aucoin, manager of housekeeping and laundry at UHNBC. "It's getting to the point where we're better organized and we're seeing the results. Housekeeping staff are feeling much better about their work."
The results of the external audit are meshed with quarterly audits to help Northern Health measure how it is addressing housekeeping issues. Northern Health announced Wednesday it has renewed its five-year contract with KMPG to serve as the health authority's external auditor.
DOCS TRAINED HERE, STAYING HERE
Homegrown doctors continue to take on permanent positions in northern B.C. In the latest hiring period, from May 26 to Sept. 17, 13 physicians began working in Prince George, Burns Lake and Mackenzie facilities and four of them were products of the Northern Medical Program at UNBC.
The list of recruits includes two family physicians for Mackenzie, one for Burns Lake and four family doctors for Prince George. UHNBC also confirmed the arrival of three psychiatric specialists, a radiologist, an internist and an obstetrician/gynecologist. Fort St. John and Prince Rupert attracted one general practitioner, an obstetrician moved to Fort St. John and Terrace has a new psychiatrist.
"We've tried to focus on partnering with our health service providers, with physicians, with the communities, and the university and Northern Medical Program to make sure we're doing what we can to recruit people," said Ulrich. "Whether those are small communities or Prince George, it does take a partnership to among all those people because we're not just recruiting people to a job, we're recruiting them to a community."
In recent years, Northern Health has gained access to a larger pool of graduating health professionals due to the increasing availability of post-secondary programs to train them. UNBC and CNC have a joint registered nursing program, UNBC is producing nurse practitioners, and CNC trains lab technologists and radiography technicians for hospitals. In June, the province approved funding for five new nurse practitioners positions, adding to the 16 nurse practitioners already working in Northern Health region.
"We do have physicians coming in who have been trained in the North and we're in a far better situation than we were a decade ago, but we don't have any reason to be complacent," said Northern Health chair Charles Jago. "Some small communities are still really struggling and there are certain areas of specialization where we have real need."
The 13 new doctor recruits filled about one-third of the 44 vacancies Northern Health listed this summer.
HEALTH RESEARCH ETHICS BOARD FORMED
In recognition of the growing interest in conducting medical research, Northern Health and UNBC have created a joint health research ethics board. The new board replaces two separate medical ethics groups -- UNBC's Research Ethics Board and Northern Health's Research Review Committee, which first formed an alliance in 2008.
"As part of our recruitment and retention of health professionals and part of being a location where we train and educate health professionals, we need to engage our staff in research," said Ulrich. "In order to do that, we need to make sure we have proper processes in place to look at research projects and proposals to make sure they are ethical and it is a quality process and we've felt all along the best way to do that is in partnership with the university."
When they were separate committees, UNBC would review the ethics and purposes of each project and Northern Health would conduct the administrative review to determine if the required facilities, staff and funding were available to do the research. Now the process is streamlined under one committee and it is less complicated for projects to be approved.
In November, Northern Health will profile some of its research projects in a two-day conference.
CANCER CENTRE WORK NEARLY DONE
The BC Cancer Centre for the North will open in Prince George at UHNBC once construction of the inpatient unit is completed, sometime in December, and the Northern Health board received an update report which shows the UHNBC component of the centre is on time and on budget.
The cancer centre will serve as the hub of an integrated network that connects to nine community cancer centres in the North. A regional resource team of nurses, general practitioners, oncologists, and pharmacists in Prince George will support medical staff in the smaller community cancer clinics. Each of those clinics will be staffed by a GP and nurse who are both trained in oncology and are certified to administer chemotherapy. Patients who need radiation therapy will have to travel to Prince George.