The NWT government has asked staffing agencies to submit proposals in an effort to expand the territory’s ability to acquire agency nurses.
Using agency nurses to fill holes at health centres and hospitals is considered a last resort by the NWT government but is allowed under a deal with the union if done to avoid closing facilities.
A request for proposals invites nursing agencies to bid for contracts that will supply registered nurses to the territory when necessary.
The NWT already has sole-source contracts that do the same thing, contracts leaned on for the first time when Stanton Territorial Hospital’s obstetrics unit was critically under-staffed earlier this year.
David Maguire, a spokesperson for the territory’s health authority, said the broader request for proposals represented “a longer-term solution that may help present a wider range of possible agencies and providers.”
Even with the existing contracts in place, the NWT urgently needs access to more nurses. A system-wide vacancy rate of around one position in four was reported by health minister Julie Green last week, and almost half of the NWT’s communities are currently receiving either reduced or emergency healthcare services because of staffing shortages.
“By undertaking an open request-for-proposals process we aim to find the best-possible service providers through an open procurement process, align with GNWT procurement processes, and allow all qualified agencies to offer their services,” Maguire stated by email.
Maguire said the authority believes that prior to the obstetrics-related use of agency nurses this year, more than a decade had passed since staffing agencies were last used to supply nurses to the territory.
“This is certainly the first RFP in recent history to be issued,” he confirmed.
“Use of staffing agencies is a last resort as we obviously prefer to hire staff through the regular process as employees.
“With the increasing use of agencies over the past eight months, as nursing recruitment has become more challenging, it was determined that there could be benefit to a broader RFP to allow additional qualified staffing agencies to be identified and therefore possibly a broader pool of potential staff.”