A nurse attends to an elderly person in a hospital bed.

Photo Credit: Shannon | Flickr

No Nurses in NorthIsle: Here’s What Island Health is Doing

Hiring process not as clear cut as it seems

Island Health says they’re doing their best to hire NorthIsle nurses. So where are they?

Everyone knows the North Island’s medical system is struggling. Long waits, no ambulances, hospital redirects and closures… You name it, we’ve been dealing with it.

All these problems can be boiled down to one overwhelming problem: there’s not enough medical staff. Not enough doctors, not enough paramedics, not enough nurses.

Is the NorthIsle being left to fend for itself?

No, but the problem is not easily solved.

Island Health hosted a meeting in Port McNeill to address the community’s many questions about what’s happening to their healthcare.

They said they’ve been trying to recruit enough staff so that hospitals run with more staff than needed, not less. But even with months of costly country-wide recruitment campaigns, they are still nowhere close to having enough staff, let alone more than they need.

But some actions have been slowly working.

They’ve launched a new program that asks nurses from all over the Island to work in remote and rural areas temporarily, similar to a travel nurse program. 

This allows them to “test out” living on the NorthIsle and consider small town life more permanently. They’ve had over 100 expressions of interest. Two dozen nurses are already going through training and booking shifts to work in the region. 

They’re also putting heavy emphasis on recruiting medical students who are still in school for residencies. 

“The rotations in Mount Washington are really popular amongst medical students and residents, which is fantastic because that’s really your pipeline for future docs. If you’ve had some training in a rural setting, then you realize the benefits there,” said Doctor Ian Thompson, Executive Medical Director for Island Health.

Reaching out to the education departments of local Indigenous communities is another step that’s been successful. They have two new referrals for support and learning through this program, and the three most recent hires have a multi-generational history of living in the area.

They’ve been arranging phone conversations between physicians who work in the area and potential recruits. Apparently, direct conversations between practitioners are the most compelling tool for convincing urban doctors and nurses to test out small town life.

These efforts are likely going to take time to show significant results. That means struggles faced by residents will likely continue.

However, Island Health has no plans to give up. They told folks in the meeting that they will not close or permanently change the services at any Mount Waddington hospitals.

The province has invested $4 million to get new workers to come and stay. Island Health says they will continue to invest until the workforce is stable again.

All this is good to hear, but right now they better throw some of that money at making sure there are paramedics to take people to the few doctors available.

There have also been issues between Island Health and a doctor who already lives and works in Port McNeill. And the heavy toll of the pandemic is still causing nurses to leave. Previous attempts to recruit doctors haven’t been so successful.

So it’s hard to take what they say at face value.

Long story short: there’s a very long and complicated road ahead to creating stable health care in the region, but they are getting things rolling.