Boden is currently following in Skellefteå's footsteps, with a delay of about two years. H2 Green Steel plans to bring in guest workers next year. Healthcare also needs to be prepared for the addition of up to 1,500 guest workers to Boden's 28,500 residents.
The municipality, Region Norrbotten, and H2 Green Steel have initiated joint discussions, with a focus on how Skellefteå dealt with the surge of new patients. When Northvolt accelerated its activities, it coincided with the COVID winter of 2020-2021, and Ursviken's health center came under significant pressure.
In February 2021, the COVID pandemic was in full swing in Sweden. At the same time, Northvolt was ramping up the construction of its battery factory. These two factors collided, and like many others in Sweden, guest workers fell ill, leading to the implementation of an extensive testing routine. Every morning, all employees entering the Northvolt site had to undergo a quick test.
Ulrika Stenlund, now the department head, was a medical secretary at the health center at the time. It became her and her colleagues' job to create temporary "r-numbers" for 20-30 people every day.
– In the morning, we would receive an e-mail with a list of people who needed 'r-numbers' because they didn't have Swedish personal identification numbers," says Stenlund.
Linnéa Lindh, chief support and nursing assistant, worked in the lab.
– So we had to create 'r-numbers' before lunch, and then I could enter the samples, run the tests and send them off.
Ursviken's advantage was that they already had an infection entrance, something many other places had to set up temporarily, so they could channel people that way. Regular admissions were limited due to the pandemic, but it was still a challenge for the staff to manage the situation.
– It was a pretty significant adjustment. Of course, Northvolt's arrival is great as it's brought population growth and job opportunities. But the region may not have anticipated how the influx was going to impact our ability to maintain good, accessible healthcare, says Stenlund.
The Ursviken health center was the closest to Northvolt, and all workers ended up going to the health center, no matter where they lived. Today the situation is different; some "r-numbers" have become Swedish personal identification numbers. The health center includes public dental care and a family center, with 25 employees and more than 7,100 registered patients.
– Now it has leveled out a bit. Today it's a little less busy. It's only when someone gets injured that they come here, says Stenlund.
What about language barriers?
– I think we manage it quite well; fortunately we speak English quite well. We've had a lot of Chinese workers, and they use Google Translate a lot. So we have to find other solutions, says Linnéa Lundh.
How noticeable are the cultural differences?
– Well, you can see that in many other countries you see a doctor first. Here it's structured differently. So there can be some questions. But it usually resolves itself when we start to identify the problems they have, says Stenlund.
Ursviken's health center currently relies on substitute doctors. But there is hope, thanks to the battery factory. When the lab needed staff during the summer, a woman from Turkey stepped into the breach.
– Her husband works at Northvolt, and it turns out that she's a doctor. So now she's studying Swedish and will take the knowledge test to qualify as a doctor in Sweden. And she wants to work here permanently, says Stenlund.
– Yes, we've been incredibly lucky with her, says Lindh.
In Boden, work on building the Svartbyn steelworks is expected to accelerate in the coming year. In the Norrbotten region, decisions already made have paid off. Lärkan opened in April. At the same time, Hermelinen is expected to open a health center in Sävast in the autumn. This will take Boden from two to four health centers.
– We are in discussions with the company and Boden municipality for next year, says Krister Berglund, Region Norbotten's area manager for the region, who is responsible for primary care and dental care.
There are several issues that need to be addressed for next year.
– We need to find out whether H2 intends to have its own occupational health service in the future. We also need to know how the accident and emergency demand will be affected, says Berglund.
The municipality of Boden and H2 Green Steel have signed a framework agreement for contractor housing at nine locations. To date, planning permission has been granted for 132 beds. A building permit for 660 places has been appealed, and the rest are in the planning stage. The purpose of the project is to reduce the burden on society, including primary care. But it should also provide more pleasant conditions for the workers who will live and work in the community.