Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre faces staffing crunch

The largest health care provider in northwestern Ontario says it needs more nurses — and can't figure out why some of its jobs go unfilled.

Hospital needs to hire 50 nurses to bolster the ranks

Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre says it needs to hire 50 nurses to bring its staffing ranks to a full complement. (Nicole Ireland/CBC)

The largest health care provider in northwestern Ontario says it needs more nurses — and can't figure out why some of its jobs go unfilled.

The Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre has about 50 openings for nurses. The hospital required even more than that earlier this fall, but was able to hire a few new staff members. Some of the openings are internal job postings, but after staff shuffle to new positions, eventually a new nurse is hired.

"We're not actually 100 per cent sure of why we're currently having additional challenges," said Dawna Perry, the chief nursing executive at the hospital.

"In past years, we've been able to manage our vacancies through a spring hire and a prediction of bodies. So, we're not sure if it's a bit of the overcapacity."

The overcapacity is extra beds the hospital currently staffs at Hogarth Riverview Manor, using employees from its nursing pool. Those beds are an attempt to move patients who need to move to long-term care out of the hospital, to free up beds for patients with acute care needs.

She said the hospital is trying to figure out why more people aren't applying for open nursing jobs. 

"We have been talking to our new grad hires, and we have been talking with the college and university is there something, a need that we're not meeting from the new grads," she said.

Perry said the hospital can generally predict how many staff it needs for the coming year, and hires new nurses accordingly when they graduate from school in the spring.

Perry said the hope is the hospital can change its hiring practices, and figure out why it is not receiving as many applications as before. 

"Is it just that they're enrolling more people from southern Ontario, and historically, when they graduated those people would stay here because there weren't jobs in southern Ontario," she said. "But, now that there's jobs there, they're actually returning home. Is it that we are a less desirable [place to work]?"

"Is there something that is holding back from them applying here. We don't have a good understanding right now of what it is because LU and [Confederation] College, which is our main supplier of nursing staff, their enrolment hasn't changed as far as numbers."

The challenge isn't limited to Thunder Bay, with health care providers in Sioux Lookout, about 400 km northwest of the city also constantly hiring nurses.

Other hospitals in the region looking for nursing staff include Terrace Bay, Nipigon, Geraldton, Dryden, Atikokan and Fort Frances.

About the Author

Jeff Walters

Reporter/Editor

Born and raised in Thunder Bay, Jeff is proud to work in his hometown, as well as throughout northwestern Ontario. Away from work, you can find him skiing (on water or snow), curling, out at the lake or flying.