Elected leaders in Grand Forks say they’re working together to help alleviate the critical shortage of nurses at Boundary Hospital (BH), especially by addressing the city’s housing crisis.
Mayor Brian Taylor, Coun. Everett Baker and MLA Roly Russell (NDP, Boundary-Similkameen) said they’d known for weeks that the hospital was up against a serious staffing crunch. Baker said the Interior Health Authority (IH) informed council and city staff that it was temporarily closing BH’s long-term care ward Wednesday, March 23 — the same day IH publicly announced the closure.
Taylor and Baker said the dearth of available housing came up repeatedly when they met with IH executives. Grand Forks’ lack of local post-secondary options for nurses came up as well, along with pandemic fatigue.
Baker, recently appointed by council to liaise with IH and Health Minister Adrian Dix, said he and the mayor were told that some BH nurses had taken leave to train in specialized fields of medicine. There are no training programs available to nurses in Grand Forks, they heard.
With rental vacancies near zero, Taylor said Grand Forks’ tight housing market isn’t supporting nurses who might want to work at BH. There have been 148 new builds in city limits since the flood of 2018, he said, but there needs to be many more in the years ahead.
“Housing – that has to be our primary focus,” he explained. “We need to look at what nurses and other professionals need and our staff will have to look at what they can do to help fill the housing gap.”
Taylor said council will likely consider a “very general resolution” at its next meeting Monday, March 28. Baker added that he would work closely to enhance IH’s local recruitment strategies, while exploring options for nurse training programs in Grand Forks.
Baker said the nursing shortage is “a provincial issue in a broad sense, but it becomes a municipal issue very quickly when we start to see the effects locally.”
Russell said he’d been in contact with Baker and top staff at the health ministry. The MLA said Minister Dix had been “alerted to the staffing challenges at Boundary Hospital.”
“I think the next step is to come up with a plan that works well to shore up the hospital’s ER,” he continued.
Russell said he was pleased to hear the city is working toward “creative housing solutions,” but cautioned that nurses are rapidly burning out across the province, mostly due to increased workloads and emotional strain brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Pandemic burnout, frankly, is a big part of it. The stress has put remarkable pressure on all of our healthcare professionals for the last two years.”