Northern Health sees staffing shortage

Despite ramping up recruiting efforts for healthcare professionals, Northern Health is still facing a total of 197 current unfilled positions, including 80 classified as difficult-to-fill, according to a human resources report released Monday.

Northern Health is facing a shortage of trained healthcare workers, particularly in more rural areas of northern B.C. Of the current difficult-to-fill vacancies, 26 are located in the northeast region, while 24 are in the northwest, nine in rural areas of the northern interior and 11 in Prince George. Ten of these vacancies cover more than one of these regions. Postings for nurses accounted for the biggest number of these vacancies, representing 35 of the 80 positions. Difficult-to-fill positions, classified as postings active for more than 90 days from the initial date of posting, decreased by four per cent last year, while the total number of openings for nursing positions remained constant.

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The report identified many challenges to filling these positions, including housing, a shortage of qualified applicants and an unwillingness of many applicants to relocate to remote areas.

Between March and November of 2017, Northern Health hired 962 new employees. Over the 2016/17 fiscal year, the health authority hired 1,318 people, while in 2015/16 the total number of hires was 1,500.

According to the report, Northern Health has hired 210 registered nurses, eight nurse practitioners, three physiotherapists and seven ultrasound technologists since December of 2016.

For many of these hires, the health authority has provided sponsorship of the candidates' education. Northern Health recruiters have also made presentations to high school students about the benefits of careers in healthcare throughout the north and in towns in the Cariboo region such as Williams Lake and Quesnel. In addition, the health authority has reached out to international applicants, helping many of these applicants gain permanent residency in Canada. In 2017, Northern Health provided support for eight applicants under the provincial nominee program, an immigration program for skilled workers. Four of these applicants were registered nurses.

The health authority hopes to employ a significant digital recruiting strategy in 2018 with methods ranging from data mining their existing databases to social media advertising and online video campaigns focused on healthcare students.

"We have done a lot of work over the last few years around the approach that we use to recruitment," Northern Health CEO Cathy Ulrich said in a phone interview.

"I think some of those [strategies] have borne fruit and have had some success."

Northern Health currently employs 7,000 people.

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