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Province announces funding for health care recruiting, retention in northern B.C.

Ambulance service to be upgraded at 50 rural, on-call ambulance stations

The provincial government announced $6.38 million in funding to help attract and retain healthcare workers in northern B.C.

Health Minister Adrian Dix announced the funding on Tuesday, along with plans to convert 24 on-call ambulance stations in rural B.C. communities into full-time stations and enhance ambulance service at 26 others.

“These announcements come at an important time in health care across the north…” Dix said. “We want people to have decades-long careers (in health care) in the north, not just stay a few years and move on.”

The funding includes plans to develop housing and childcare programs in northern communities where lack of affordable housing and childcare are barriers to retaining healthcare professionals, including Kitimat, Hazelton, Prince Rupert, Chetwynd, Dawson Creek and Fort St. John.

The funding will support the continuation of the Travel Resource Programs which supports the work of more than 40 registered nurses and licenced practical nurses, and the creation of a Rural Urgent Doctor in-aid (RUDi) program to support doctors in rural communities.

Money will also be used to create clinical management supports for Prince Rupert and the northeast, and stabilize care at Mills Memorial Hospital in Terrace.

Northern Health board chairperson Colleen Nyce said recruiting health care professionals is a challenge throughout the country, but especially in northern and remote communities.

“We are working to make it easier for staff and their families to relocate or stay in northern communities,” Nyce said.

Communities in the north have a role to play, she added. Health professionals aren’t just looking at the hospital or clinic where they will work, but the “community and lifestyle” the north offers, she said.

In addition to the healthcare initiatives in the north, Dix announced plans to increase ambulance service at 50 locations in rural B.C. The announcement was an expansion of the commitment the province made in July to enhance ambulance service in the province, following a deadly heatwave that overtaxed the B.C. Emergency Health Services’ ability to respond.

In October, 24 stations currently staffed by on-call paramedics will be upgraded to provide 24-hour-a-day service seven days per week. Those stations will be staffed with eight full-time paramedics each. That includes ambulance stations in Burns Lake, Fort St. James, Houston, Vanderhoof, Chetwynd and Fort Nelson.

In November, increased paramedic staffing will be provided at 26 smaller ambulance stations, including Bear Lake, Dease Lake, Granisle, Hudson's Hope, Stewart, and Wells.

“When you need an ambulance, that service is the most important service government provides,” Dix said. “We’re making a significant commitment to improve ambulance service in B.C.”

In July, the province committed to hiring 85 new full-time paramedics in communities including Prince George, Kamloops and the greater Vancouver area. Prince George was slated to receive eight additional paramedics.

Interim chief ambulance officer for BCEHS Leanne Heppell said she is listening to paramedics on the front lines and hearing about the fatigue and daily challenges they face. But also determination to continue serving the people of B.C., she added.

"We are on track with filling new paramedic and dispatch positions and I know this is going to create more stability in our staffing and improve our emergency medical response and our community paramedic services in rural and remote B.C. in particular," Heppell said.

"We are also working to make BCEHS a truly great employer where our employees are healthy and supported in their important work caring for patients. We are on track with filling the new paramedic and dispatch positions, and I know this is going to create more stability in our staffing and improve our emergency medical response and our community paramedic services in rural and remote B.C.”