Labrador-Grenfell Health filling gaps

Andrew Robinson
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Labrador-Grenfell Health (LGH) is in a unique position amongst the three regional health authorities in Newfoundland and Labrador - its 22 facilities employing more than 1,600 staff cover the largest geographic region of any health authority in the province.

"It is challenging, I would imagine, for someone coming from outside the region to settle in a northern and remote (place)," said Barbara Molgaard Blake, vice-president of people and information for LGH. "There are unique challenges that come with that."

However, despite the challenges in trying to recruit and retain workers along the Northern Peninsula and in Labrador, the health authority is making progress on both fronts, Molgaard Blake said.

"In the past year or so, we've actually seen some major improvements in our recruitment and stability of our workforce," said Molgaard Blake, who looks after human resources.

An advertisement from the classifieds section of last Saturday's Telegram listed 36 openings with LGH. Recruitment is a continuous process for the health authority, Molgaard Blake said.

In recent years, recruitment and retention of nurses has been especially challenging for the health authority.

That concern has been an issue provincewide, she said, in part because of intense competition across Canada for nurses.

However, more nursing graduates are choosing to stay in the province to work, in turn benefiting LGH, Molgaard Blake said.

There were 21 nursing positions advertised by the health authority last Saturday, with 12 of those permanent full-time and the rest a combination of temporary full-time, temporary call-in and casual. Molgaard Blake said LGH was looking to fill 60 nursing positions at one point last year.

Looking to build on the region's strengths, LGH promotes the communities it serves as great places to live, noting the region has more to offer than the lifestyle associated with its cooler months, Molgaard Blake said.

"From the quality of work-life balance, I find it's an excellent place to live and work," she said.

The health authority also offers recruitment and retention incentives, some of which are unique to the region. A wide range of bursaries are offered to students in their final two years of studies, tied to a commitment to work in Newfoundland and Labrador upon graduation.

Schooling social workers

Recruitment trips are made to other Atlantic Canadian universities on a regular basis, and the health authority has also partnered with St. Thomas University in Fredericton and the Nunatsiavut Government to offer a two-year Labrador bachelor of social work program. Studying in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, the graduates make a three-year commitment to work in aboriginal communities.

The program concluded last year, but Memorial University is now running a similar Nunatsiavut school of social work program, also based in Happy Valley-Goose Bay.

A sign-on bonus is available for positions vacant over an extended period of time. The sign-on bonus for LGH positions is the highest in the province, in recognition of the unique challenges facing the health authority, Molgaard Blake said.

Among those challenges is the high cost to travel outside the region. Weather, too, can often wreak havoc on travel plans, said Molgaard Blake, and economic prosperity in western Labrador has driven housing prices upward and placed pressure on the availability of accommodations.

"If they're from the area, they often have connections through family or friends where they can find accommodations, but if you're not, it makes it so much more challenging to make those connections to find suitable accommodations." Twitter: TeleAndrew

Once an employee meets the obligations of a sign-on bonus or a student bursary, an additional challenge is placed on LGH in trying to retain those employees.

Molgaard Blake said helping ensure an employee and their family are happy with their job and the community they live in is important, as a stable workforce reduces the need for overtime or shorthanded shifts, either of which can cause stress and lead staff to seek work elsewhere.

Staff shortages have forced the health authority to make tough decisions in the past.

A Telegram story from March 2009 found the operating room at Labrador Health Centre in Happy Valley-Goose Bay was closed for two days so nurses could deal with shortages affecting the emergency room and in-patient unit.

Molgaard Blake said current nursing vacancies are not significantly affecting services, although the issue is always a concern for the health authority, particularly in direct patient care areas requiring specialized staff.

"If you don't have those positions filled, then potentially you might not be able to provide that service."

Organizations: St. Thomas University, Nunatsiavut school, Labrador Health Centre

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Northern Peninsula, Happy Valley Goose Bay Canada Fredericton

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