Interior Health is expediting hiring, supporting new graduates and meeting with healthcare workers to help tackle Royal Inland Hospital’s staffing issues, according to the new vice president of clinical operations for IH North.
Diane Shendruk spoke in front of the Thompson Regional Hospital District board on Thursday morning, acknowledging the hospital has been “experiencing increased staffing and recruitment challenges.”
Shendruk said IH leadership are working with the ministry on recruitment and retention incentives and expect to have an announcement soon related to these measures.
“[We are] partnering with our staff to co-create action plans to improve our retention and workplace culture. We have reviewed and optimized — along with our staff and our union partners — optimization of rotations for skill mix, full and part time ratios and schedule patterns,” Shendruk said.
She said her office is located in Royal Inland Hospital, and she has invited staff to contact her directly with suggestions around how to support recruitment and retention efforts.
"I've been very purposeful to engage in staff huddles, to go meet with the staff and to really improve that communication directly to myself, so I can support the teams to be successful,” Shendruk said.
This lead to the city’s MLA’s, mayor and councillors to call for major changes at the hospital as healthcare workers spoke out about their exhaustion and mental health challenges stemming from working in understaffed and toxic work environments.
Shendruk told the TRHD board IH has developed a “30-60-90 day action plan” with strategies to address short-term staffing levels and sustain services.
Shendruk said IH leadership has met with nursing staff and physicians in regards to staffing challenges, hearing “key priority areas” they were able to quickly address.
“One area of an example which may not seem to be very important — but for our staff was very important — was access to scrubs. Where in our emergency department, critical care and our COVID unit was a top priority for them. So we very quickly, we were able to support staff in that way,” she said.
She said an urgent response team was developed to give call-outs throughout Interior Health to manage and prepare for staff shortages. Staff located at least 40 kilometres away receive a 1.5 times pay incentive to respond.
“This has resulted in 17 staff to be redeployed from other regions of Interior Health. And we currently have just under 20 additional potential redeployments,” Shendruk said.
She said more than 300 hospital positions have been filled since September — resulting in 16 net new care staff — and 48 new graduates have been hired.
Shendruk said 140 positions, 40 of which are part-time, have been created to provide work flexibility to staff.
“That was a real important key element that we did hear from staff was the need to have more availability for part time positions versus full time,” she said.
Ken Christian, Kamloops mayor and chair of the TRHD board, pointed out that the district had contributed $218 million over the last 10 years to healthcare measures.
"Those dollars came from our constituents, from the taxpayers of this region. And we hear from them regularly about concerns that they have related to health care in this region, and they're concerned about their return on investment in terms of their contribution to that,” Christian said.
He said he was surprised to hear Shendruk say the biggest issue which came up in staff meetings with leadership was access to scrubs.
"It doesn't reflect what I have been hearing as a local politician. And I suspect some of my colleagues as well,” Christian said.
He said he’s been hearing about issues related to emergency room closures and delays, surgery postponement and cancellations, and about the impact of staffing shortages.
“We're hearing from staff directly about their frustration and their anxiety about being able to practice within their scope of practice, as well as mental health issues,” Christian said.
Coun. Denis Walsh asked Shendruk to provide clarification around how RIH staff shortages relate to COVID-19 vaccine mandates, and wondered if any unvaccinated staffers would be brought back.
Shendruk said the IH operates under a provincial health order mandating that health authority employees must be fully vaccinated. She said she didn’t have numbers specific to RIH, but around 950 employees in Interior Health left as they were not fully vaccinated.
“It did have a significant impact to our human resources,” Shendruk said.