Promoting the Elk Valley as an attractive place for nurses to live and work has been pitched as a solution to an apparent shortage.
MLA for Kootenay East Tom Shypitka believes the region offers what others can’t – affordable housing.
“I think that’s where the main problem is right now, is getting nurses to come, and stay and live,” he said.
“When you talk about affordability throughout the province, I know Fernie, for example, is fairly high in affordability, but communities like Sparwood, Elkford (and) Cranbrook for the most part are actually fairly affordable compared to the rest of the province.
“We can bring that forward and package it up, and sell it as a very attractive place to come and work.”
Shypitka’s comments come after the 24-hour closure of the emergency department at the Elkford Health Centre on July 10 due to unexpected limited nurse availability.
The MLA said he would advocate to the B.C. Government that closures aren’t acceptable.
“Anytime that we have a disruption of services it impacts people and communities,” he said.
“Luckily this time it wasn’t a large impact, I think there was one person that was displaced, but it wasn’t so much an emergency, it wasn’t life threatening or anything like that. But that’s a slippery slope, it’s dangerous.”
Shypitka supports the BC Nurses’ Union’s proposal for a rural float pool, whereby nurses in a defined area move from one site to another according to shortages.
Last week, Interior Health confirmed it is actively exploring the idea, however, some challenges, such as availability of housing, have been identified.
Shypitka believes that’s where municipalities come in.
“Municipalities have to be prepared and have to get on board as well because we have to create housing spaces for some of these work pools that we’re talking about,” he said.
“There has to be places to rent a roof and affordable places.
“Municipalities have to be engaged, they have to have firm partnerships with provincial government and also with the BC Nurses’ Union.”
Prospective nurses can now complete their full four years of study, instead of two, at the College of the Rockies in Cranbrook, which the MLA hopes will also improve retention rates.
With an aging population, he believes the province needs to be proactive rather than reactive.
“The warning shot has been issued with a small closure,” he said.
“It was only one day but still, that could equate into something larger down the line and I think it will, so we’ve got to prepare for it.”