Interior Health says it is temporarily closing the inpatient unit at Boundary Hospital in Grand Forks due to “significant staffing challenges.”
“This difficult decision was made in order to maintain safe patient care,” Interior Health president and CEO Susan Brown said in a news release. “Our priority is to re-open these beds as quickly as it is safe to do so and we are actively recruiting to stabilize staffing.”
Remaining staff will support the emergency department so it can remain open 24/7, the health authority said. Anyone requiring emergency care should still visit the hospital, but if a patient requires hospital admission, they will be transferred to another hospital.
Interior Health said it aims to recruit five RN positions to reopen the unit.
In an interview, Dr. Shallen Letwin, Interior Health’s vice president of clinical operations, added that they have been struggling to maintain staffing for a while for a variety of reasons, but it is unrelated to COVID or vaccine requirements for health professionals.
He said all of the permanent staff at the hospital are vaccinated. Some vacancies are the result of staff who have left to do specialty training and others on on leave for family reasons.
“It’s not unusual for the health system right now,” he says. “There is a shortage of many different health professionals.”
Dr. Letwin said that while numbers at the hospital have fluctuated, staff were picking up shifts to fill gaps. However, “we’ve come to a point where we need to stabilize and ensure we have a strong schedule with the staff we have … Our first and foremost consideration is to continue safe patient care. We need a critical level of staffing to do that.”
The dozen beds at Boundary Hospital were all full on Wednesday when the decision was made. Some of those patients were discharged, some sent to long-term care, and some taken to other hospitals. There is no designated alternate hospital for Boundary patients. Rather, Dr. Letwin says, medical staff will decide which is appropriate based on their needs.
Other communities in Interior Health faced similar staffing challenges this year as a result of COVID, which also prompted bed closures.
Dr. Letwin says they need at least six RNs to reopen all of the beds at Boundary Hospital. They presently only have one for medical and a few others for the emergency room.
He could not predict how long the situation might last, saying their goal is to reopen as soon as possible.
The health authority says it is offering a variety of incentives to prospective employees, including helping pay for moving costs. Nurses who come to Grand Forks may also be eligible for the rural retention grant and having their student loans forgiven.
In addition to the RN positions, Interior Health is also recruiting emergency nurses, rural and remote mental health and substance use staff, long-term care nurses (RN/RPN), medical lab technologists, and community care licensed practical nurses.