PORT HARDY—Two new nurse practitioners have been hired to provide primary care at the medical clinic in Port Hardy, the leading edge of a wave of 45 new nurse practitioners funded through a government initiative.
Health care efforts on the North Island will now return to a focus on getting more physicians to Port Hardy, which has struggled with emergency room coverage in recent years due to chronic physician shortage.
"We need three more physicians in Port Hardy," said Alison Mitchell, Vancouver Island Health Authority manager of rural health services for the Mount Waddington Region. "As part of our local working group's recommendations, there has been an additional $30,000 allocated to a physician recruitment agency specifically for Port Hardy."
Port Hardy currently has three physicians, who must bring in locum, or temporary, physicians to cover gaps in emergency room on-call scheduling.
As the doctors must juggle regular clinic hours with ER coverage, patients in Port Hardy have been faced with onerous wait times to be seen.
"We've been told that patients calling for an appointment were being given a two- or three-week wait time for a visit," said Mitchell. "We're hoping the nurse practitioners will ease that load."
The additions bring to four the number of nurse practitioners working in and around Port Hardy, including one dedicated to aboriginal health and another to mental health and addictions.
The search for additional physicians has also taken a step forward with the aid of the recruitment agency, Mitchell said.
The local working group was briefed by the area's coordinator to the recruitment agency during its meeting Monday. The group was told 11 candidates have been identified as potentially suitable for the North Island and will be strategically targeted for additional interviews.
"These are physicians who have specific experience in rural health or aboriginal health, or who prefer working in smaller communities or in areas with outdoor recreation potential. We have no commitment yet, but we're certainly working on it.
The two nurse practitioners recently hired in Port Hardy are among a group of 45 who have been approved for multiple health authorities in the province, including seven designated to VIHA.
The new nurse practitioners are being funded by a $22.2-million initiative, first announced in May, which committed to fund 190 nurse practitioner positions over the next three fiscal years.
"Nurse practitioners are a valuable part of our health-care team," said Health Minister Margaret MacDiarmid. "Adding 45 more nurse practitioner will bolster resources available - particularly in primary and community care settings - to improve access to care. Over the next three years, we will be funding a total of 190 new nurse practitioner positions."
The nurse practitioners will be working in primary health-care settings, including medical clinics, mental health clinics, residential care and First Nations' health services. Not all of the nurse practitioners have been placed yet, though the province is expecting them to start working as soon as possible, once contracts are signed with health authorities.
Due to the dire need in Port Hardy, however, VIHA quickly signed the two nurse practitioners for the North Island.
"We were pretty much at the top of the list for VIHA," said Mitchell. "We were anticipating this announcement, so we were ready to go when it was approved."
Nurse practitioners were introduced to B.C. in 2005 to assist in improving access to primary health-care services. Currently, 252 nurse practitioners are registered with the College of Registered Nurses of B.C. B.C. has the ability to educate up to 45 nurse practitioners a year, 15 at each of the University of British Columbia, the University of Northern British Columbia and the University of Victoria.
In October 2012, the ministry announced new regulations to allow nurse practitioners to admit and discharge patients from health-care facilities, working in collaboration with physicians and other health-care providers.
British Columbia is the second jurisdiction in Canada to have qualified nurse practitioners admit and discharge patients from hospitals, after Ontario.
"We know that many nurse practitioners have been frustrated by the lack of opportunities for the profession in the province, and this will go a long way towards solving that problem. My hope is that more British Columbians will find out how nurse practitioners can help them better access the health-care services they need," said Rosemary Graham, president of the British Columbia Nurse Practitioner Association.