Jagmeet Singh meets with the Northern Territories Federation of Labour in a still provided by the group.
The NWT’s healthcare staffing crisis was raised as the Northern Territories Federation of Labour held a virtual meeting with NDP leader Jagmeet Singh on Wednesday.
As the federation also covers Nunavut, notices of termination received by 1,100 workers at Nunavut’s Baffinland iron mine were the first concern brought forward at the meeting.
Avery Parle, a representative of the federation, later told Singh healthcare staffing has reached a crisis point across the North.
“We talked at length about how much burnout our healthcare workers are experiencing,” said Parle following the meeting.
“The issues that were raised with me by nurses and other healthcare workers are that they’re being asked to run projects where you need 12 nurses to do it safely, and they’re being given eight. They say that it’s dangerous and it’s setting them up to fail.”
The meeting also touched on similar issues playing out for social workers in the territory.
“Caseloads in the NWT are alarmingly high. Typically, each kid in social services represents a case. What I’ve been told in consultations with NWT members on the ground is that not only are social workers here being given as much as 20 to 30 cases, but workers are telling us that the GNWT classifies one family as a case. So there could be two, three, four kids, all in social services, but they count as one case. It’s obvious the math there doesn’t add up,” said Parle.
While Parle acknowledged that the federal government doesn’t typically involve itself in territorial health systems, he said federal funding is urgently needed.
“One thing I asked the federal NDP to do is to really push to increase federal transfer payments,” he said.
“Healthcare in the North keeps getting more and more expensive. Half our communities are fly in, fly out. When healthcare centres close, we need more flights, and it all just snowballs. I don’t think federal transfer payments ever really cut the mustard, but now they’re falling further and further behind.
“And truthfully, as much as I can knock the territorial healthcare system for not providing healthcare to our residents, they can only do what they have the funding to do. They’re stuck with a certain sized pot. And that’s where the federal government has a role to play, to make sure we’re adequately funding our healthcare systems to ensure that all our residents are getting access.”
While Singh shied away from a direct pledge or commitment, he said in the meeting that he recognized that the NDP and federal government have a role to play in improving the territory’s health and social services.
During Singh’s July visit to Yellowknife, he said healthcare stood out as one of the most important concerns he heard when he met with residents.
“Healthcare is something that came up a lot,” he said in an interview with Cabin Radio. “Folks are really worried about the challenges to accessing healthcare. In Yellowknife, people talked about healthcare workers being burnt out and how it’s hard to retain workers.”
Parle is hopeful that the meeting will help northern workers get their voices heard in Ottawa.
“I expect that [following this meeting] they will be pushing for us,” said Parle, “to increase the role of the federal government as a partner, and ensure that the North gets the resources we need to keep these systems going.”