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Update on healthcare services in Fort Nelson

Northern Health

As we all know, providing healthcare services in small communities comes with unique challenges. One of these challenges is balancing the services provided in a community, the demand for those services, and the staff needed to keep those services running.

Recently, there have been concerns raised around changes to healthcare services in Fort Nelson. We would like to provide some additional information around these changes and the reasons behind them to help better understand the work underway to reduce impact to health services.

There are three main areas we would like to provide an update on: the Sterile Processing Department (SPD), the CT scan business case, and Lab Services.

In a May 2021 meeting with physicians in Fort Nelson, it was shared that NH was not intending to renew the sterilizer service contract. This decision was based on usage data for the past two years in Fort Nelson, as well as the cost of maintaining the contract and equipment. Over the past two years, the sterilizer had been used an average of once per week, and primarily for non-NH instruments.

There are regular transportation trips from Fort Nelson to Fort St. John that instruments can be sent on, and so the impact on Fort Nelson General Hospital should be negligible. We are not removing the position associated with the sterilizer as there are other tasks that this position supports.

We would also like to inform you that Northern Health has made the decision to develop a business case for a CT scan machine for Fort Nelson General Hospital. Physicians in Fort Nelson, including Dr. Mostert, have strongly advocated for this and we are happy to take the next step in this process.

Once the business case is complete, it will be reviewed by the NH Capital Planning Working Group for funding consideration.

Finally, there have also been concerns expressed around the future of lab services at the hospital. Unfortunately, the Chief Lab Technologist, and the second Lab Technologist, both gave notice and left their roles in October of 2021, creating a situation where there were no qualified lab Technologists for Fort Nelson.

In a series of meetings in September and October, a team made up of members from Northern Health, local Fort Nelson physicians, Diagnostics, Technologists and more, met to develop strategies to limit the impact of the staffing challenges on patient care and outpatient lab needs in Fort Nelson.

We increased the transportation of lab specimens from Fort Nelson to Fort St. John to twice daily. We have purchased and implemented additional equipment such as a HEMOCUE (for Hemoglobin testing) to be able to continue to provide more point of care testing locally.

Nurses have undergone additional training to ensure the capacity to do point-of-care testing for most urgent and emergent tests, so not all specimens need to be sent to Fort St. John for processing. With the support of lab staff from elsewhere in the Northeast (including Dawson Creek), we completed a December 2021 blitz to clear outstanding lab requisitions to reduce the wait list for elective tests, and another is planned this month. For less urgent tests, there may be longer turnaround times for results from those that do need to be sent for processing, but these changes are temporary while we continue to work hard to recruit the skilled staff we need.

Current lab equipment that is not being used will stay in Fort Nelson. It has currently been decommissioned to prevent any damage, but once new lab Technologists are hired the equipment will be put back into service. We are actively recruiting for the Lab Technologist roles and are offering a $10,000 recruitment incentive in addition to relocation allowance. In the interim, we are also attempting to contract Agency Technologists to fill these gaps.

Elsewhere on the recruitment front, we have successfully contracted one Agency lab tech for a six-month period, and a number of tests have recently resumed at Fort Nelson General Hospital. We have recently created and filled a full time Laboratory Clerk position, and established a full time Lab Assistant position, to continue to support local lab operations.

Although there are always challenges associated with healthcare in smaller communities, Northern Health is committed to ensuring quality healthcare services are available to all those who live in and around Fort Nelson.