Solutions to health care delivery crisis go beyond financial incentives for physicians, says union
Long-term solutions to the crisis facing health care delivery in Prince George and the rest of northern British Columbia must go beyond a narrow package of financial incentives for physicians, says the provinceís largest union of health care workers. "We agree with area physicians that urgent action is required to improve health care delivery in Prince George and in the rest of the region," says Chris Allnutt, secretary-business manager of the Hospital Employees' Union. "But in the context of a nation-wide shortage of physicians in northern and rural settings, the package of financial incentives demanded by the Northern Medical Society is a stop-gap measure at best," adds Allnutt. "It represents $30 million of scarce health care dollars that could support other initiatives that would improve health care delivery in the region." Those initiatives include: Reducing the rate of injury in health care workplaces "In the five-years ending in 1998, more than 14,000 work days were lost at Prince George Regional Hospital alone as a result of on-the-job injuries," says Allnutt. "Those most injured are members of the nursing team - care aides, Licensed Practical Nurses and Registered Nurses - who are already in short supply in the region." The union says higher staffing levels and improved lifting equipment would help reduce the injury rate. Expanded use of nurse first responders and LPNs. An initiative to use RNs as nurse first responders as a way to relieve pressure on northern and rural physicians was announced by former health minister Penny Priddy two years ago. This program should be expanded. And the union says that the squeeze on RNs could be lessened if LPNs were used to their full scope of practice. Prince George-based training of LPNs LPNs are part of the solution to the nursing shortage, but there's no training available in Prince George. The union is calling on the province to reconsider its decision not to fund an LPN program at the College of New Caledonia. Expanded use of community health centres "It's long past time that British Columbians had easy access to a broad range of salaried health care professionals - including physicians, physical therapists, dieticians, community health nurses, social workers and others - in community health centres that are accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week." More emphasis on the social determinants of health Allnutt says last week's Maclean's Magazine ranking of personal health and health services in Prince George points to a need to pay closer attention to social determinants of health such as poverty and adequate housing. "The magazineís ranking of Prince George emphasized low scores on factors such as prenatal care and community health - factors related to a lack of preventive health measures. In terms of physician supply, Prince George is firmly in the middle of the pack of surveyed communities." The 45,000-member HEU represents about 1000 health care workers in the area covered by the Northern Interior Regional Health Board. More than half work at Prince George Regional Hospital.