B.C. looks to fix staffing shortages in pediatric therapy

Advocates say a $290,000 recruitment plan will be the first in years

The B.C. government is looking for help to recruit pediatric therapists in what one advocate calls the first provincial help the sector has received in close to a decade.

In a request for proposal recently posted online, the Ministry of Children and Family Development says it is looking for someone to create a plan that will recruit and retain pediatric therapists for occupational therapy, physiotherapy and speech-language pathology. It’s allocated a maximum of $290,000 for the plan, which is scheduled to start in August and run to the end of next March.

Jason Gordon, the provincial advocate for the BC Association for Child Development and Intervention, says the last time the province set out major resources to pediatric therapy was when it opened the Office of the Provincial Pediatric Recruitment and Retention Coordinator in 2005. Its funding ran out six years later. “(The office staff) would go to job fairs across Canada, to education training programs, and meet with graduating classes from the three professions,” said Gordon.

The lack of grads going into the field is another key problem, Gordon said – as is the lack of spots in the classroom. That number is determined province-wide by the Ministry of Advanced Education. He said ministry officials often refer to what’s most in demand in acute care, rather than in paediatrics, to determine classroom spots.

“The highest need for therapists tends to be for speech-language pathologists, and then occupational therapists, and then physios,” Gordon said. “That demand in the kids’ sector is the exact opposite of what we see in the acute care sector, where there’s a bigger demand for physios and occupational therapists, and speech is somewhat last.”

He said his organization is working with other groups behind the three therapies, but it’s hard with no provincial body to help.

It’s been especially tough to retain therapists because the now-closed provincial office provided online mentoring for new grads in rural locations.

“It made sure that there was continuing education development opportunities in every region of the province,” Gordon said, “so that even if you work in northeastern B.C., where it was really expensive to get to Vancouver for a course, it made sure that there was an opportunity in the north where it was a little bit more accessible.”

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