Northern Health keeping wage incentive for hospital pharmacists

Prince George Citizen

TheNorthern Health Authority has a prescription to cure potential labour unrest atUniversity Hospital of Northern B.C.

Theorganization is refusing to accept a provincial push to reduce the wages of itshospital pharmacists.

TheHealth Employers Association of B.C. recently requested that health authoritiesend a temporary eight to 13 per cent increase in hospital pharmacists wagesthat was adopted in 2006 to bring private sector community pharmacist wages onpar with hospital pharmacist wages, and help hospitals recruit much-neededpharmacists.

"InNorthern Health, we are still experiencing vacancies in our pharmacistspositions and there is still a differential between public sector and privatesector wages, so we made the decision to continue the temporary wageadjustment," said Michael MacMillan, chief operating officer for NorthernHealth.

Recruitmenthas been challenging for the last 10 years, said MacMillan.

"Aswith most health professionals, we've gone through a period of short supply andmaking sure we have longterm stability in our system is important to NorthernHealth."

Hospitalpharmacists earn from $39 to $50 an hour, while their private sector colleaguesearn $50 to $65. Wages are higher for hospital pharmacists in smallercommunities in Northern Health's jurisdiction, particularly in northern B.C.

UHNBCpharmacist Carol Gee was delighted by the news that Northern Health is backingits 19 hospital pharmacists.

Shesaid as many as three hospital pharmacists were considering leaving UHNBC ifthe wage incentive was dropped.

"Ifa pharmacist quits or leaves it takes years to replace them because we can'tattract them to the north," said Gee. "If all they are worried aboutis money, I don't think they realize the impact pharmacists have onbudgets."

Havingworked as a hospital pharmacist for 11 and a half years in Prince George, Geesaid she routinely joins the rounds with doctors and nurses on the familypractices ward and is in steady contact with patients to learn more about theirconditions.

Watchingpatients during post-operative recovery gives hospital pharmacists insight intomedications are needed, or not needed.

Forexample, she can recommend medication in pill form rather than the moreexpensive intravenous by observing the patient.

Upondischarge, she can provide advice to the patient to help prevent readmission tohospital. Close to one in four patients are in hospital to treat reactions toprescription drugs.

"Gettingsomebody home quicker saves thousands of dollars," said Gee, "and ifI can help that, I feel I've earned my keep."