Recruitment for new healthcare staff, including nurses is ongoing, Northern Health official said. (Lakes District News file photo)

Burns Lake hospital at full staff capacity, official says

The Lakes District Hospital and Health Centre in Burns Lake is working at its full capacity for health care services, a Northern Health official said.

“Currently we are at full complement in terms of permanent full time and part time staff,” Emelye Macfarlane, the regional manager for recruitment at Northern Health told Lakes District News.

That information on staffing comes despite claims that the health care available in Burns Lake isn’t meeting all of the community’s needs.

Burns Lake resident Brian Hanson, who suffers from recurring wounds and infections, can’t get the daily care he needs when the infections flare up because there aren’t enough nurses here trained specifically in wound care.

When his infections become particularly bad he has to spend three months in a hospital in Kelowna because he can’t get the right care in Burns Lake.

READ MORE: Resident’s future in Burns Lake uncertain amid healthcare gaps

On his last visit to Kelowna his condition was so severe he had to be there for eight months.

“We’ll always continue to recruit for all areas. We’re continuing to recruit nurses and some may have their wound care training,” Macfarlane said.

The regional manager explained that this year the service is working to keep health care skills in the region.

“We’ve launched for 2019 our new grad nursing program. [It] connects with the community and encourages people in the north to stay in the north.”

There is also a “travel nurse pool” that serves Fort St. John and Hazelton, she said.

“We’re looking to expand it in the next few months or year. [But] I’m not sure if it’ll come to Burns Lake. We’ll assess areas on a case by case basis.”

Northern Health spokeswoman Eryn Collins said the traveling nurses are sent to communities “with a particular need where there’s shortages of nurses and where they’d be best used” and that more communities are being considered.

Advertising for new nurse positions is done through specific association websites for nurses, as well as through Work BC, BC Jobs, Indeed and “dedicated Facebook advertising to target professionals across Canada,” Macfarlane added.

Another issue for Hanson is VAC (vacuum-assisted closure) therapy which he sometimes needs for clearing up infected wounds. That treatment consists of a dressing over the wound that is connected to a pump machine which creates a vacuum and helps disinfect and heal the wound faster. It costs about $200 a day to use it at home, Hanson said.

But the hospital in Burns Lake doesn’t have that device.

Collins said the service is in the “process of looking at the…benefits for clients” of bringing VAC therapy to Burns Lake.

One VAC unit would cost about $22,000, she said.

Collins said Northern Health is aware that less than five people in Burns Lake could benefit from VAC treatment “if it were prescribed by their care team.”

“I want to emphasize that cost of services is one of but not the main factor in our decision to provide services. The provision of safe care is of utmost importance. There are also issues around ongoing education for staff and competency. We have a region-side competency training process for nurses in applying, maintaining and removing wound VAC devices.”

She didn’t know when VAC care might be brought to Burns Lake.

Outside this area the University Hospital of Northern British Columbia in Prince George has VAC therapy, as well as sites in Quesnel, Fort St. John, Dawson Creek, Prince Rupert and Terrace.

“There are also other sites in the [Northern Health] region that have performed VAC therapy, on a case by case basis, but haven’t had any clients for whom VAC Therapy has been prescribed for extended periods of time; (this means) such low volumes present challenges for staff to maintain competencies.”

Addressing the concern of Burns Lake having only one wound care nurse, Collins explained “that’s not saying she’s the only one that could do it. It means she could educate and train other nurses on the team to provide the treatment.”

It wasn’t known when more nurses would be recruited.

“Our recruitment is based on needs for vacancies and services that need to be provided…There’s also availability, competency and demand and need for that type of nurse that come together to determine if a service can be provided.”

Commenting on local medical services, Burns Lake mayor Dolores Funk said the situation shows that more could be done in the healthcare sector, “Burns Lake could use many more services that would make the quality of life better in a small northern town.”

“That said, we are certainly not unique – having to travel to larger centres for services, is the reality of our medical system, specifically, and our economic system, in general,” she added. “I think you will find that we have very competent leadership at our local hospital and I do trust that they are working hard on behalf of their patients.”

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