Southern Health continues to deal with a shortage of both nurses and physicians. The Board of Directors was notified this week that there are 146 nurse vacancies across the region.

Southern Health has 724 Registered Nurse (RN) positions and 97 vacancies. It has 348 Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) positions with 49 vacancies. The nurse vacancy rate is 13.6 per cent, which is up from 12.2 per cent a year ago. Their target is to have a vacancy rate of less than 4 per cent.

Board Chair Abe Bergen says approximately 40 per cent of their nurses are eligible for retirement within the next five years.

"As we hire new nurses, others are retiring and so we just need to hire faster than people retire in order to bring those vacancy rates down," says Bergen. "That's an ongoing effort."

The board was told that numerous steps are being taken to try and recruit more nurses. This includes striving for more appealing hours of work, providing bursaries, attending job fairs and providing practicum placements. Other initiatives include pursuing international grads, providing educational opportunities in the region, working with Assiniboine Community College to support the rural rotating LPN program in Southport and continuing to support student practitioners in the region.

Bergen says they are confident their staff is doing their best to recruit more nurses.

"We certainly want to recruit," says Bergen. "We're not alarmed."

In terms of physicians, the board has been told there are currently 21 vacancies, which is up from 20 a year ago. The region is short four physician specialists, one more than last year.

The regional health authority says training within their four clinical teaching units is their best strategy for recruitment. Other initiatives include contacting every medical resident, attending and hosting a family medicine retreat and attending national job fairs.

Bergen says similar to the nurse situation, a number of doctors in the region have retired. Some have left to practice in other areas or leave for family reasons.

"We just need more students getting into medicine and wanting to practice in rural Manitoba," he says.

Data has not been released on what part of the region is experiencing the highest number of nurse and physician vacancies.