Kitimat Council approves healthcare recruitment strategy

In a bid to strengthen its own healthcare services the District of Kitimat has adopted its Kitimat Healthcare Professionals Attraction and Retention Strategy. The program aims to address the acute need for healthcare professionals through a series of targeted actions.

Kitimat is now among a handful of other B.C. communities to officially take action on their local healthcare crises, in what is historically the jurisdiction of the provincial government. Staffing shortfalls locally are most acutely felt in the near-weekly closures of the Kitimat General Hospital’s emergency department, forcing residents to forego treatment or travel to Terrace at their own expense.

“At the heart of tackling healthcare recruitment challenges is the need for a program that caters specifically to our community,” Kitimat Mayor Phil Germuth said. “We know that there are recruitment challenges faced everywhere in B.C. and in Canada, and this program is meant to focus on our specific needs here in Kitimat.”

At its April 8 meeting, council approved the strategy’s first-year budget, with the objectives of appointing an attraction and retention coordinator and providing financial incentives aimed at recruitment and training, which include housing and transportation allowances.

LNG Canada provided all of the $210,000 needed to fund these first-year initiatives. The money adds to a string of donations totaling $2.36 million the company has made in recent years to boost Kitimat’s healthcare resources.

“As proud members of the Kitimat community, LNG Canada and its employees are committed to supporting meaningful, long-term strategies that provide stronger healthcare services and outcomes for local residents and patients,” Teresa Waddington, LNG Canada’s VP of corporate relations said.

In addition to the recruitment strategy, the district has also introduced a $5,000 annual bursary for local students pursuing healthcare careers, contingent upon their commitment to return to the area upon graduation.

READ MORE: Kitimat ER closes 44 times in 2023

Beyond the first-year objectives, five other key recommendations aiming to improve both healthcare and housing in Kitimat are outlined within the strategy. They are expected to be rolled out over the next five years.

These include fostering ongoing collaboration with the Kitimat Health Advocacy Group (KHAG), incentivizing housing construction and renovation, and promoting investment in healthcare infrastructure.

The strategy also suggests lobbying senior levels of government for the recruitment of internationally educated health professionals and partnering with academic institutions, such as UBC, UNBC, and Coast Mountain College, to increase healthcare training spaces in Kitimat and create programs for residents to pursue healthcare careers at home.

“This new strategy is a forward-thinking initiative that is certainly called for in this time of healthcare uncertainty,” Rob Goffinet, chairperson of the Kitimat Health Advocacy Group said. He lauded the effort as a progressive step in healthcare recruitment, reflecting on the group’s long history of collaboration with the district.

The attraction and retention strategy is the result of a pivotal meeting in July 2023 with area healthcare organizations and community stakeholders.

Kitimat council pledged to collaborate with various entities including the Haisla Nation and Northern Health Authority to enhance healthcare professional attraction and retention.

Alberta-based Doug Blackie Consulting was subsequently hired to spearhead the project, leading to the development of the current strategy after research and stakeholder consultation from August to December 2023.

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