British Columbia

B.C. aims to attract health-care staff to careers in the north with child care, housing incentives

The British Columbia government is offering nurses and other health-care professionals incentives like child care and support for housing and travel as part of a recruitment drive in the northern region.

Health minister says entire province could face shortage of 24,000 nurses within 7 years

The provincial government is concerned about a nursing shortage in northern B.C. and says it is making efforts to try to entice and retain nurses to the area. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

The British Columbia government is offering nurses and other health-care professionals incentives like child care and support for housing and travel as part of a recruitment drive in the northern part of the province.

Health Minister Adrian Dix says the aim is to get more health-care workers to move north and stay there as many parts of the country experience staff shortages in the sector.

However, he did not provide a timeline for when some of the programs would be launched — including one offering virtual visits with doctors and other health-care professionals in rural communities.

Dix, speaking Wednesday on CBC's The Early Edition, said the province has already significantly increased the budget for nursing education in B.C. and added new nursing training positions as well.

"We are going to continue to do that work," said the minister, adding that the province is also currently in contract negotiations with B.C. nurses where possible wage increases are being discussed.

Dix says workforce challenges have been exacerbated in the Northern Health region — which extends from Quesnel, Valemount and Prince Rupert north to the Yukon border — as it deals with the highest number of COVID-19 cases per capita in the province, and that recruitment is traditionally more difficult there in any case.

He says the province's first priority is to ensure all health-care workers get vaccinated against COVID-19 as part of a mandatory requirement starting Oct. 26, in order to prevent outbreaks in health-care facilities that would then face more staffing shortages.

The University Hospital of Northern B.C. in Prince George, B.C. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

Dix says the government will be working with the nurses union as well as the provincial association of doctors and groups representing other health-care workers.

Dix also said Wednesday that the nursing shortage is not isolated to the north and that within seven years, B.C. could face a shortage of up to 24,000 nurses.

Elizabeth Saewyc, director of the University of British Columbia's School of Nursing, says the shortage is a long-standing issue that has been exacerbated by the pandemic.

She estimates about 1,300 nursing students graduate in B.C. every year. But she says the current shortage also means there are not enough nurses qualified to teach and not enough experienced practitioners to provide supervision during clinical practice.

Saewyc says retaining nurses is a problem across the industry. An estimated 20 per cent of new graduates leave the job within four years, she said.

Elizabeth Saewyc speaks with Stephen Quinn about the situation in B.C.'s hospitals and how to train more nurses as the BC Nurses Union opposes a vaccine mandate.

With files from Bridgette Watson and The Early Edition

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