PRINCE RUPERT, B.C. -- The B.C. government is providing over $6.3 million for programs and incentives to encourage more health care workers to move to the Northern Health region.

These programs will support health care workers in accessing supports such as child-care, housing and travel funds.

For example, $225,000 will go towards developing a child care program for health care employees working 12-hour shifts that will include new child care spots and expanded hours of operation.

$750,000 will be used to develop a housing program for health care workers in communities where finding stable market housing can be a challenge. These communities include Kitimat, Hazelton, Prince Rupert, Chetwynd, Dawson Creek, Fort St. John and the Robson Valley.

$821,000 will also go towards the Travel Resource Program, which covers some travel costs for health care workers.

More funding will also be provided to the Rural Urgent Doctor in-aid (RUDi) program, which offers emergency virtual medical care to people living in rural and remote communities.

The province hopes these programs will not only attract more health care workers to the North, but also improve their retention rates in the region.

“These measures come together, I think, at an important time in health care across the Northern Health Authority,” said Health Minister Adrian Dix at a press conference yesterday.

“We have, as you know, very significant challenges at this moment, for example, with COVID-19. We have the highest level of COVID-19 per share of the population in Northern Health of any region in BC. And there are challenges nonetheless -- challenges that are structural and fundamental and ones that we have to continue to get at and address now."

The province is also providing $645,000 for clinical managements supports in Prince Rupert and the Northeast. These supports will build capacity to support new graduates and offer resources to support the development of their management skills.

"These investments will contribute significantly to addressing the recruitment and retention challenges that Northern B.C. and so many jurisdictions are experiencing," said Northern Health Board Chair Colleen Nyce in a press statement.

"People are the foundation for the provision of quality care, and it's important we invest not only in recruiting staff, but in ensuring staff and physicians have the supports they need."

During yesterday’s press conference, Dix also announced improvements to B.C.’s ambulance services.

24 ambulance stations in rural areas of the province will be converted from on-call stations to full-time, around-the-clock stations. Northern communities benefitting from this include Burns Lake, Fort St. James, Houston, Vanderhoof, Chetwynd and Fort Nelson.

26 smaller ambulance stations around the province are also moving to a scheduled, on-call staffing model and receiving more permanent regular paramedic jobs starting on November 1st.

Northern areas included in this announcement include Atlin, Port Clements, Dease Lake, Field, Granisle, Stewart, Southside, Hudson’s Hope and Bear Lake.

“This means we'll have an enhanced ambulance system and a more stable paramedic workforce in rural and remote communities that can more quickly respond to emergencies,” said Dix.

“What this also means is better paying predictable full time jobs for our paramedics, which will in effect improve our retention and retainment of the workforce as well.”

30 new dispatch jobs will also be filled as part of the staffing changes.