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Staff to wear 'worried but working' pins at hospital opening

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Some members of staff at the new Stanton Territorial Hospital will wear pins expressing their concern over working conditions on the day of the hospital's grand opening ceremony.

The hospital, which welcomed its first patients at the end of May, is holding a ceremony featuring the unveiling of a commemorative sculpture on Friday afternoon.

Some employees are expected to wear pins on Friday, and thereafter, bearing the text "worried but working."

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Last month, NNSL reported a letter from nurses to managers had alleged a "daily struggle" to find both beds for patients and nurses to staff the old Stanton.

That letter, the newspaper said, expressed a concern that similar conditions would continue in the new, $350-million facility. Cabin Radio has not seen the document.

Affected staff gathered on Wednesday evening at a meeting convened by Local 11, the Union of Northern Workers local responsible for hospital workers.

Cabin Radio understands several dozen nursing positions at the hospital are believed to be unfilled.

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"Getting a day off is a challenge," said Frank Walsh, president of Local 11, following the meeting.

"Every day somebody is off and you're getting phone calls: 'Can you come back in?'

"A lot of it is staffing and it's nothing new. This is a challenge our profession, nursing, has been facing for quite some time."

The NWT's health authority has long acknowledged what it calls "challenges when recruiting for skilled health and social services positions" such as nursing, and the problem is not unique to Yellowknife.

Responding to the concerns expressed in the nurses' letter, health authority chief executive Sue Cullen said: "I recognize that Stanton has gone through a massive amount of change in the past few years and resources have been taxed with work related to preparing for the transition to the new hospital.

"I believe we are nearing the peak of this change and appreciate this has put additional stress on staff within the busiest care site in our system."

Sell a 'bigger product'

Walsh told Cabin Radio he met with management and human resources representatives on Thursday.

"We all acknowledge, both the union and employer, that it is a challenge. We need to sell not just nursing; we need to sell the Northwest Territories," said Walsh, who recalled first coming to Yellowknife from Newfoundland in 2001.

"We need to sell a bigger product ... and get people to say, 'Hey, this is a place I want to be and where I want to be a family.'

"I'm optimistic. I'm hearing there might be a bit of a different approach from HR, involving people like me who have come from somewhere else and decided this will be home. We're going to use those people to be a part of that recruitment team, if you will.

"I don't know how fast it can happen, but I'm optimistic."

Walsh said the pins reading "worried but working" were based on a phrase suggested by a nurse in a recent meeting, adding the pins had been produced at nurses' request.

"They wanted us to have a campaign which supports them," he said.

"It has lots of underlying messages to it: 'I'm worried about my patients. I'm worried about my colleagues. I'm worried, am I going to get my vacation time? But I'm working, and I take care of our patients.'

"We need to work together," said Walsh, referring to the union and health authority, "and we recognize we need to work together."

Endoscopy services are an example of the current staffing concern. Endoscopy at the new Stanton is currently unavailable as the hospital cannot find specialist staff trained to do the job.

At the time of announcing disruption to that service, Cullen said: "The health authority is working hard to look at all options to resume endoscopy services at Stanton Territorial Hospital [including] working to immediately increase capacity through staff training, targeted recruitment activities, and looking at alternative staffing options such as temporary locum staff.

"Timely access to care is a priority and ensuring we have sufficient specialized staff to deliver this service is critical."