Abbotsford Regional Hospital.  File photo

Abbotsford Regional Hospital. File photo

ARH ER nurse vacancies filled after more than $1 million spent on out-of-town workers

New hires hoped to ease staff shortage plaguing hospital

One year and $1.1 million later, Abbotsford Regional Hospital has close to a full complement of full-time emergency nurses.

Last March, the hospital’s ER had more than 30 openings for emergency department nurses, forcing Fraser Health to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to fly in nurses from outside the region. The BC Nurses Union (BCNU) called the situation “deplorable,” and compared the ER to a war-zone MASH unit.

Fast forward 12 months and the staffing situation is better, although overcrowding in the ER remains a problem.

The hospital is now nearing full staffing of 88 ER nurses, Christine Sorensen, the acting president of BCNU, told The News.

That is good news, she said, but the hiring of dozens of new nurses brings with it some challenges. Sorensen said it’s vital that the hospital retains its senior nurses, who will be relied on to mentor and support their younger colleagues.

The new nurses should also bring down the amount Fraser Health is spending on temporary contract nurses.

This fiscal year – which concludes this week – Fraser Health had spent more than $1 million on agency nurses specifically for the ARH ER. That was around 20 per cent higher than the previous year.

A health authority spokesperson confirmed that most of that money was spent last year, when the ARH emergency department had dozens of nurse vacancies.

In seeking to address the shortfall, Fraser Health said it has been recruiting nurses from outside of B.C., boosting mentorship and support, and offering flexible shift scheduling.

The health authority has also decided to make permanent a program that provides funds to allow registered nurses to obtain the specialized nursing training needed to work in an ER.

Fraser Health CEO Michael Marchbank said the health authority aims to completely eliminate the use of temporary nurses.

But he noted that staffing challenges are a “long-term” problem being felt across the health sector.

Sorensen said the staffing issues are part of larger, more systemic challenges faced by B.C. hospitals.

Recently, she said the ARH emergency department had 42 admitted patients who hadn’t had a bed found for them elsewhere in the hospital. Such congestion isn’t great for patients or for staff, she said.

Solving those issues will require more residential care beds and supports for patients who are ready to move on from hospital but may not presently have anywhere to go, Sorensen said.

The union and Fraser Health appear to have settled on the same solution in that respect. In recent years, the health authority’s strategy for addressing congestion has focused on increasing home health and residential care supports.

But while several hundred new residential care beds have come online, they haven’t been enough to fix the problem.

Meanwhile, the redevelopment of the old MSA Hospital site on McCallum – which will involve major residential care improvements – has been stuck in the planning stages for years.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The 4th Annual Fraser Valley Marches for Women March is virtual this year, and this file shot depicts speeches from the first march from Jan. 20, 2018. (Jennifer Feinberg/Chilliwack Progress file)
Video on women’s march emphasizes that violence against women increasing

Key messages from Chilliwack women leaders as the FV Marches for Women March goes virtual

Abbotsford Police officers investigate the scene after a pedestrian was struck and killed on Friday morning. (Ben Lypka/Abbotsford News)
Male pedestrian, 37, killed in Abbotsford after being struck by vehicle

Collision took place in 31800 block of South Fraser Way on Friday morning

A screenshot from a local Instagram account video. The account appeared to be frequented by Mission students, and showed violent videos of students assaulting and bullying other students.
Parents, former students describe ‘culture of bullying’ in Mission schools

Nearly two dozen voices come forward speaking of abuse haunting the hallways

(Black Press Media files)
Snowfall expected for Lower Mainland on Saturday night, Sunday morning

2 to 5 cm of snow predicted Metro Vancouver, according to Environment Canada

A door is boarded up following a fire at Pho Xuan restaurant on Yale Road on Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
UPDATE: Early morning blaze at Chilliwack restaurant

Fire erupted north of the overpass at Pho Xuan which was permanently closed

Toronto Public Health nurse Lalaine Agarin sets up for mass vaccination clinic in Toronto, Jan. 17, 2021. B.C. is set to to begin its large-scale immunization program for the general public starting in April. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
B.C.’s COVID-19 mass vaccinations expected to start in April

Clinics to immunize four million people by September

Police are searching for an alleged sex offender, Nicole Edwards, who they say has not returned to her Vancouver halfway house. (Police handout)
Police hunt for woman charged in ‘horrific’ assault who failed to return to Surrey halfway house

Call 911 immediately if you see alleged sex offender Nicole Edwards, police say

Joe Biden, then the U.S. vice-president, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau take their seats at the start of the First Ministers and National Indigenous Leaders meeting in Ottawa, Friday, Dec. 9, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau, Biden to talk today as death of Keystone XL reverberates in Canada

President Joe Biden opposed the Keystone XL expansion as vice-president under Barack Obama

Prince Edward Island’s provincial flag flies on a flag pole in Ottawa, Friday July 3, 2020. A lozenge plant in Prince Edward Island has laid off 30 workers, citing an “almost non-existent” cold and cough season amid COVID-19 restrictions. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
‘Almost non-existent’ cold and cough season: P.E.I. lozenge plant lays off 30 workers

The apparent drop in winter colds across the country seems to have weakened demand for medicine and natural remedies

Robert Riley Saunders. (File)
Disgraced Kelowna social worker faces another class-action lawsuit

Zackary Alphonse claims he was not informed of resources available to him upon leaving government care

A specialized RCMP team is investigating a suspicious trailer, which might have connections to the illicit drug trade, found abandoned outside a Cache Creek motel. (Photo credit: <em>Journal</em> files)
Police probe U-Haul trailer linked to illicit drugs left outside Cache Creek motel

Hazardous materials found inside believed to be consistent with the production of illicit drugs

Premier John Horgan leaves the podium following his first press conference of the year as he comments on various questions from the media in the Press Gallery at B.C. Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Monday, January 13, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Interprovincial travel restrictions a no-go, Horgan says after reviewing legal options

The B.C. NDP government sought legal advice as concerns of travel continue

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Gem Lake Top, at Big White Ski Resort, seen at Jan. 8. (Big White Ski Resort)
Big White cancels $7.3M in lift tickets, accommodations due to COVID-19 orders

Since November, the ski resort has been forced to make several changes

Most Read