South Slave

NWT ‘makes progress’ on health staffing as Hay River feels latest hit

The NWT’s health authority says vacancy rates are dropping in some areas, even as Hay River braces for the latest impacts of a territory-wide staffing shortage.

Hay River has its own health authority, managed separately from the authority that controls healthcare across most of the territory. Both authorities have been struggling to fill positions.

After last week warning of an “unprecedented” staffing shortage in the months ahead, Hay River health authority boss Erin Griffiths subsequently announced the town will have no qualified emergency room physician until at least March 28.


“All residents who present to the emergency room will be triaged and assessed by our nursing staff, who will consult with a physician at Stanton Territorial Hospital over the phone,” Griffiths wrote.

From April 1, the number of inpatient beds in Hay River will reduce from 12 to six because of a loss of front-line nurses. “As a result, more patients maybe transferred out of the community for care and treatment,” Griffiths wrote.

Asked if the NWT’s health authority forecast a similar exacerbation of its staffing crisis this summer, spokesperson Lisa Giovanetto said talk of an unprecedented staff shortage territory-wide was speculative – and some areas were showing improvements.

Giovanetto said the NWT health authority’s most recent review, on December 31, showed its overall vacancy rate had come down from 18.3 percent in June to 14 percent.


The vacancy rate for front-line nursing positions at Stanton Territorial Hospital was 17.8 percent, down from 22 percent in June, Giovanetto said, while the front-line nursing vacancy rate across the territory was 20.2 percent, down from 26.3 percent.

Elsewhere in Canada, some of the worst-hit jurisdictions are reporting vacancy rates for similar posts of around 25 percent.

“We are not expecting any immediate impacts to services,” Giovanetto concluded.

Even so, recruitment drives both in Hay River and across the broader territory continue apace to help repair a system strained not only by vacancies but also a tandem crisis in morale. (There remains no apparent resolution to a fight between the NWT government and Union of Northern Workers over how to reward healthcare staff.)

Last week, a physicians’ careers website carried an advertisement for “urgent locum opportunities” in the Northwest Territories while promising salaries of up to the equivalent of $340,000 per year.