10/19/2012 12:52 EDT | Updated 12/19/2012 05:12 EST

Work camp boom strains Northern B.C. healthcare

An increase in transient workers in Northern B.C. is putting a strain on health care in small neighbouring towns, according Northern Health.

The health authority has just completed its second survey on economic development in the north and found there are more than 1,809 logging, mining, oil and gas drilling and exploration work camps — though not all are active.

"It's a very significant phenomenon, and we do know that some of those camps are very large," said Dr. Charles Jago, chair of the Northern Health Board.

"So we hear about these very large camps, and we hear people being nervous about the impact that these camps are going to have on their communities. At this point we don't know what impact those camps have."

The work camps often have accommodations and food facilities but aren't equipped to deal with employees' healthcare so they turn to neighbouring communities, and their health facilities, for care.

"When we meet with communities, they tell us over and over again, 'You know, there's these huge camps in Kitimat or Hudson's Hope,' and people are fearful about the impact they're going to have," said Jago.

The report finds numerous challenges facing transient workers, such as shiftwork, isolation, and higher rates of substance abuse and sexually transmitted diseases.

What the report lacks is any solutions.

Jago says that's for the study's next phase, when they'll look at how to address those challenges in a future that is sure to include more growth of temporary worker populations in northern B.C.