Health care staffing crisis

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There is no magic bullet to solve the problem of nursing shortages in communities across Nunavut, said Arviat North – Whale Cove MLA John Main last week in Arviat.

Arviat North Whale Cove MLA John Main says more has to be done to help Nunavut's efforts to recruit and retain more health professionals on Jan. 16, 2019. Darrell Greer/NNSL photo
Arviat North Whale Cove MLA John Main says more has to be done to help Nunavut’s efforts to recruit and retain more health professionals on Jan. 16, 2019. Darrell Greer/NNSL photo

Main, speaking to Arviat nurses being terribly overworked due to a shortage of staff and a nasty flu bug on the go, said the staffing and capacity issues at the Arviat health centre are nothing new.
He said the shortage is concerning for local residents and in terms of how it can impact the workforce at the health centre.
“It’s extremely concerning to see that these capacity issues keep coming up, and it certainly doesn’t help for health-centre staff to have to go and work in an environment like that every day,” said Main.
Nunavut communities are not alone in their effort to recruit more nurses.
Communities across Canada have recruitment teams put together to focus on having incentive packages appealing enough to recruit and retain doctors and nurses.
Main said Nunavut has to realize it’s not the only province or territory looking for medical professionals, and it has to find ways to compete with the packages being offered by other locales.
He said Nunavut has to become number one in putting time and energy into its recruiting efforts.
“We have to hire people who want to be here and who are a good fit for the reality of life in Nunavut.
“Once people get on the ground here in our communities, we need to make sure we have everything in place that’s needed to retain them, and that goes to making sure they’re not overworked, making sure they’re made to feel welcome and that their housing is adequate.
“There’s been some talk of opening up job sharing for people who are semi-retired so, from my perspective, there is a lot that can be done in terms of further developing our workforce.
“Retention is a huge issue and the Department of Health can’t solve it on its own. It has to be a larger, multi-pronged initiative that involves community members and different agencies such as those tasked with providing housing.”
Main said the staffing issues are impacting health-care delivery on an ongoing basis.
He said people across Nunavut are feeling a huge amount of frustration over health care right now, and that’s particularly true in his constituencies of Arviat and Whale Cove.
“We don’t want to see people suffering because we can’t solve these staffing issues.
“We don’t want to see elders and infants – the most vulnerable members of our society – going without proper health-care delivery.
“We need to really focus on moving the dial on this problem in a good direction and the vision I have, for the next few years going forward, is if we can make a dent in this and get things going in the right direction, then it will become easier to keep it that way.
“Right now we’re in this downward cycle where nurses being overworked and not having great working conditions impacts our recruitment and retention, so it’s a huge issue for Arviat, Whale Cove and communities across Nunavut.”
Main said recruiting nurses and other medical professionals from within has to be part of the solution to the problem.
He said Nunavut has to invest more into developing its workforce and that has to include opportunities for Inuit to receive the training in their own communities.
“I’m not sure if a nursing degree has ever been offered in a Nunavut community other than Iqaluit but, when it comes to teaching positions, for example, it’s being done regularly now across Nunavut where degree programs are offered in the community.
“Nursing is a four-year program and if it’s offered closer to home – especially for Inuit with families – that can make a big difference when you’re trying to catch up on your workforce development.
“There’s no magic bullet for this problem because it’s such a multi-pronged and complex issue that we’ve been battling for such a long time.”
Main points to a tuberculosis-screening initiative a few months back in Whale Cove as an example of an initiative where resources were committed to a project which will have a lasting positive impact on the health of the people living in that community.
He said that’s the direction Nunavut has to come from in attacking the issue of nurse staffing in the territory.
“We need to look at it in terms of an investment – where can we invest in terms of making a difference and having a positive impact? Is it housing? Recruitment?
“The Department of Health has been doing some good work and is trying to move things forward, but we need a concentrated effort involving all our resources to make positive inroads with our efforts.”