Hay River’s health authority says another reduction in services is likely as staffing numbers are projected to drop in the months ahead.
In a statement on Wednesday, the authority said an “unprecedented shortage” over the next half a year would go beyond positions that have proven ordinarily hard to fill and affect many areas of operation.
The authority expects to have trouble finding occupational therapists, physiotherapists, nurses, doctors, and staff for its diagnostic services and social services teams.
“These positions are in very high demand and the Hay River Health and Social Services Authority is not exempt from the nationwide shortages of staff,” read the statement, signed by health authority chief executive Erin Griffiths.
Across the Northwest Territories, attracting and keeping healthcare workers has been a challenge for years. Staff on the front line agree with the territorial government that part of the problem is a national shortage, but workers in the territory also cite what they perceive to be specific management issues in facilities like Yellowknife’s Stanton Territorial Hospital.
A territorial government plan to pay an additional premium to some front-line workers – as they had requested – was rejected by the Union of Northern Workers last month, which said the deal was unacceptable as it benefited too narrow a segment of the healthcare workforce.
Several nurses have since complained that they feel no union consultation took place before that rejection was issued.
“We all found out via social media,” one nurse wrote to Cabin Radio.
“Nursing and lab techs have been the hardest-hit in recruitment and retention and we have been reaching out to the government and our union to do something.
“The government finally agrees to acknowledge this and try to be on par with the rest of Canada, and our union say no, that they want the same for all healthcare workers.
“Why not start with nurses and lab techs and then work on more?”
Gayla Thunstrom, the union’s president, had described the territory’s plan as a “take it or leave it” offer that “only included a small segment” of front-line staff. The exact detail of what was being offered and to whom in the deal, known as a labour market supplement, has not been made public by any party involved.
“The employer’s offer was a slap in the face to all our other UNW nurses and healthcare specialists who are working under the same pressures and staff shortages,” Thunstrom wrote at the start of March.
“The UNW requested more information and further discussions about which healthcare positions should be included in this labour market supplement or, alternatively, an additional one.
“The employer declined to discuss further and withdrew the labour market supplement offer completely.”
In the legislature, health minister Julie Green said her government’s proposal was “not agreed to” by the union but did not comment on the detail of negotiations.
“While I am disappointed,” Green said at the time, “I want the public and healthcare workers to know that we will continue to engage with the UNW on other ways to support the recruitment and retention of healthcare professionals.”
Hay River’s health authority said it “continues to work hard to attract and recruit skilled professionals.”
Griffiths said compensation remained “competitive” and the authority was trying to “actively recruit” from universities and colleges.