A shortage of technologists in the Fraser Valley’s larger hospitals is forcing the relocation of staff and patients, ultimately putting strain on smaller hospitals, say Mission Memorial Hospital (MMH) staff.
MMH will be losing one of its three day shift positions for x-ray technologists at the end of May, as the Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA) tries to shuffle staffing holes at Chilliwack General Hospital (CGH) and Abbotsford Regional Hospital (ARH), according to three MMH employees.
They spoke on the condition of anonymity, but emails were provided confirming details.
“We’re barely keeping our head above water in Mission,” said one employee. “This leaves us at our bare-bones skeleton.”
A shortage of technologists is felt across most Lower Mainland hospitals, but CGH’s is the most acute, the employees said, adding PHSA has been unable to fill six open positions in Chilliwack.
PHSA’s operations director of medical imaging for the Lower Mainland sent a mass email to technologists on May 5, stating they are posting jobs and actively trying to recruit from student programs, but they anticipate staffing shortages to continue.
In response, they will be cancelling outpatients and hiring additional aides, but technologists from sites “not as short staffed” will need to be redeployed to maintain hospital services.
Some MMH technologists were called to a meeting the next day and told they were losing a full-time position to CGH with relocations being chosen through seniority if no volunteers stepped up, according to the employees, noting they had no union representation.
Technologists from ARH have since volunteered to fill the gaps at CGH, but Mission’s hospital will still be losing a shift, the employees said – just now to replace the empty positions left by ARH’s volunteers.
One Mission staff member said it’s not fair MMH is once again having resources pulled away from it to serve regional health needs, and that the cuts hurt more at a small hospital.
MMH is also dealing with a large influx of ultrasound patients resulting from CGH’s technologist shortage, according to staff.
One employee said that, for at least the past 18 months, MMH clerical staff have been told to book 70 per cent Chilliwack patients to deal with a backlog of thousands of ultrasound requisitions.
Local wait times for ultrasounds have increased from four to six weeks, to 16 to 20 weeks as a result, the employee said.
Mission residents should expect increased wait times for X-rays soon.
“It’s just going to back everything up,” they said. “If we have even one sick call, it leaves one person on the floor by themselves, which is not even safe.”
One employee said the technologist shortage will likely continue, judging by low registration in next year’s BCIT programs.
The region is facing a “dire shortage” of medical imaging staff, said Kane Tse, president of Health Sciences Association, the union representing 70 specialized health professionals in B.C.
He said the relocations are indicative of the general technologist shortage across the province, adding it existed before the pandemic but has become worse, with vacancies at many sites not being filled.
PSHA’s moving of technologists from an already short-staffed site is “not really solving the problem on one side, but coming at the cost of another,” Tse said.
He said from the union’s perspective, more training at the post-secondary level and better wages are the long-term solutions for staff retention.
Tse said over the last 20 years, their compensation has fallen behind private-sector colleagues and those working in other provinces, while demands and services have increased.
“A lot of them are buckling under the workload, and just wondering, ‘Is it really worth it?’” he said. “Some members are really at the breaking point, and that’s really a big concern for us.”
PHSA confirmed in an email that the region is experiencing “decreased staffing levels.”
They said the Lower Mainland medical imaging department is working on several strategies for employee retention, including offering overtime, marketing campaigns, an enhanced referral program, and coordinating with academic and provincial partners.
They said staff redeployment is used to match capacity with patient needs.
“Medical imaging remains fully available for patients with urgent and emergency care needs, but some patients with less urgent, elective care needs may experience delays. We apologize for this inconvenience,” a spokesperson for PHSA said.