New federal regulations are making it more difficult for Northern Health to recruit foreign-trained healthcare professionals.
"We have to go through more of an effort now," Northern Health interim vice-president for human resources David Williams told members of the health authority's board at a meeting Wednesday afternoon.
Service Canada now charges $275 for a labour market opinion about a specific job opening and jobs must be posted domestically longer than in the past before foreign professionals can be recruited.
In the northern interior, 15 of the 29 vacancies are for health sciences professionals, with ultrasound technologists at UHNBC continuing to be a challenge.
UHNBC has been able to fill physiotherapy and dietitian vacancies recently.
Meanwhile, Northern Health will continue to target regions where layoffs are possible. In the past the health authority has had success recruiting from occupational therapists and pharmacists from regions of the country where there were surplus professionals.
"It's the standard way a business operates," board chairman Charles Jago said. "You keep your eye on the labour market and you identify places - Ireland is a good case in point where recruitment efforts are being done."
A few major infrastructure projects in the region are on schedule and on budget, the biggest of which is a new hospital in Burns Lake.
"They've got the basement piece done and they're moving up to the next floor," Northern Health CEO Cathy Ulrich said.
In Prince George, a contract is expected to be awarded within weeks for the construction of the new learning and development centre at UHNBC, which will be used by students and residents during their training.
In Vanderhoof, renovations to St. John Hospital are more than half done, but the unexpected discovery of some asbestos has tightened both the budget and the timeline for the project.
LITTLE WIGGLE ROOM
Northern Health is on track for a balanced budget, but has little wiggle room, according to financial statements presented at the board meeting.
As of Aug. 15, revenues exceeded expenses by just $85,000 for the fiscal year, a tiny fraction of the hundreds of millions the health authority spends each year. In a typical day, Northern Health would spend $85,000 in just 29 minutes.
"I'm tempted to say the finances are squeaky clean, but they sure are squeaky," Jago said.
Revenues came in $2.1 million more than expected so far this year, thanks to increased patient revenue from places like WorkSafeBC and from patients from other jurisdictions using Northern Health services.
Expenses are $2 million above the forecasted budget, largely due to increased patient activity, especially in operating rooms.
The Health Employers Association of B.C, various healthcare unions and the health authorities are working to determine what qualifies as essential services as the next round of collective bargaining gets underway.
The employers must present their essential service plan to the unions by Dec. 2 and the Labour Relations Board will provide mediation.
"They're trying to make it a more seamless approach," Williams said. "They're identifying the challenges before they become challenges."