Palliative care unit opening on hold due to nursing ‘crisis’

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SANDRA M STANWAY
Brooks Bulletin

The opening of the palliative care unit at the Brooks Health Centre is on indefinite hold because of a nursing shortage.
Brooks physician Dr. Erich van der Linde addressed the city-county joint services committee on Tuesday and said political action regarding the medical health situation needs to take place.
He said the nursing shortage is currently more critical than the physician shortage.
“I think it’s a huge nursing crisis. It’s not a small one and obviously COVID made it worse,” he said.
Van der Linde noted the crisis situation over the past month or more when the lack of nurses led to the palliative care decision as well as the closure over three consecutive weekends of the OR for births.
“I think it came very clear to me in the last month or three the nursing workforce is by far the biggest crisis we’re going to face,” he said.
“They have done 26 interviews. Nobody wants to come here. There are 4.5 FTE (positions) that are vacant,” he said.
He said they had to phone 13 patients who were imminent to deliver to tell them they would have to be taken to Medicine Hat — if there’s an ambulance.
The situation has been made a little more difficult with the closing of the ER department in Bassano between 5 p.m. and 8 a.m. Mondays to Thursdays for a few months.
AHS had noted in early June the situation would be until the end of August but that may be moved to October or November when the first physician is expected to arrive.
Two physicians were scheduled to open their practice in September after completing their three month assessment. The first assessment was not finished and the future of it is unclear. The second physician has not been placed for their assessment.
Van der Linde said now it is important to integrate the Brooks and Bassano facilities but it needs to happen with AHS approval.
“Huge challenges,” he said.
To help rural communities RhPAP started the RESIDE program to attract physicians with an $80,000 and $100,000 incentive. It received little uptake.
“I think it’s a big disappointment. We were hoping very much that somebody would take up Bassano,” said van der Linde.
One person showed interest in Bassano but he wanted to sign a two instead of a three year contract.
Although most of the funds will not be used for RESIDE plans are expected to be announced that would see contracts signed from physicians early in their career.
Van der Linde did suggest that international medical graduates should have to spend a prescribed period of time practicing in a rural community.
“I think when you move to Canada and you have this great opportunity, you need to start in smaller places. There needs to be a political drive to change that incentive,” he said.