Last week, nurses inside the University Hospital of Northern BC (UHNBC) and BC Nurses Union members rallied outside of the hospital, trying to get the attention of the province on the severe needs within UHNBC and the hospitals in the region.
The two biggest issues UHNBC is facing are a massive nursing staffing shortage and serious patient overcrowding in the hospital, to the point where they are regularly running at up to 125% capacity.
Prince George-Valemount MLA Shirley Bond, Adriane Gear, the Vice President of the BC Nurses Union, and speakers from Prince George who work inside UHNBC all called on Health Minister Adrian Dix to come to Prince George and personally see the state the hospital is in.
In an exclusive interview with My PG Now, Dix said while he doesn’t have travel plans set yet, he “almost certainly” will be coming to Prince George and UHNBC this summer.
He said on Friday (May 26), there were 255 patients in UHNBC. The base capacity is 238, but surge capacity goes as high as 312.
“That is a lot of patients, and it has a real impact on those working in the hospital,” he said.
He recalled flying “mostly unvaccinated” patients out of the hospital during the height of the COVID-19 Delta variant, and said they are willing to continue taking those actions to help ease the burden in the short term.
In the long term, Dix talked about the province’s new plan to introduce mandatory nurse to patient ratios.
These ratios include one-to-one for critical care patients, one nurse for every two mental health patients, one-to-three for specialized care patients, and four-to-one for palliative care patients.
There are 5000 nursing vacancies in BC right now, that number would need to be exceeded for nursing ratios to be properly implemented.
Despite the staggering numbers, Dix is optimistic.
“We have 70 concrete actions, 42 of them involve nurses,” he said.
These include recruitment programs specifically for the north, an increase in training in the north and increased recruitment of internationally trained nurses.
“Our intent is to implement,” he said, “and we have an agreement to implement those measures. In other words, money is set aside to recruit nurses and meet those ratio targets, and it is certainly our intention to do so.”
Last year, Dix said BC added 6.7% more registered nurses. At the same time, Alberta lost 1%.
“We have been the most successful province in Canada at recruiting nurses since I became Minister of Health in 2017… how do you find more? You train more, you train more in the north. You recruit more, you retain more… you take the 42 measures that involve nurses in our Health Human Resources Plan [that] are a response to this exact demand,” he said.
When looking at nursing shortages in BC, some critics point a finger at layoffs related to COVID-19 vaccination mandates.
Dix assured “a very small number of nurses” were lost to these measures.
“In terms of full time health care workers, that number was not in the thousands, it was in the hundreds. Nurses are a sub-category of that,” he said, adding “many health care workers and nurses were advocates for [mandates], they want to be safe.”
BC was the only province that implemented proof of vaccination requirements for its health care workers.
“Look at the facts. Since we have done that, last year the increase of 6.7% in the number of nurses in BC – that amounts to thousands of nurses – where there is no vaccine requirement in Alberta they lost 1%,” he explained. “I don’t think that is the answer to the question. On the contrary, I think BC has done well, but we need to do better.”
Dix also talked to My PG Now about emergency procedures in the north surrounding wildfires and a rebound in surgeries across the province, post-pandemic shutdowns. His thoughts on these topics will be covered in another article published later this week.