Health

A third of NWT on reduced health services with no end to staffing crisis


The operating room at the NWT’s main hospital will be reduced to emergency services next week. The territory’s health minister says a staffing crisis is no closer to being solved.

Yellowknife is among 11 of the territory’s communities where health services are currently reduced according to a tracker published by the NWT government.

Health minister Julie Green said in a Wednesday statement that even “special targeted measures including additional incentives” had not had the desired impact as the market for staff nationwide is so competitive.

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“We continue to see challenges in hiring, and as such, service disruptions will continue,” Green stated.

“I want to assure people that we are taking steps to make sure residents get the care they need when they need it.”

Green set out the scale of the issue affecting a third of the NWT’s communities, noting only emergency care is currently available in Fort McPherson, Fort Providence and Sachs Harbour, while services are reduced at the Kátł’odeeche First Nation and in Behchokǫ̀, Fort Smith, Fort Resolution, Norman Wells and Tulita.

In Hay River, Green stated, inpatient beds are closed, medical clinic services are reduced and “the emergency department is being supported by a practitioner.”

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In Yellowknife, the reduction in services at Stanton Territorial Hospital’s operating room is expected to last from July 18 to July 22.

“Attracting health practitioners to the North has been a consistent challenge. The pandemic, combined with a national shortage of health professionals, means we do not have the staff available to maintain all healthcare services at this time. This is creating service disruptions in the territory, especially over the summer months when staff are taking hard-earned time off,” Green stated.

“Burnout caused by the Covid-19 pandemic has led to the resignation, retirement, or reduced work hours of many health professionals across the country and in the NWT. Many of these people made huge sacrifices to help keep us safe during the pandemic, and now they are tired.

“A dedicated task team from the departments of Health and Social Services, Finance and all three health authorities is taking immediate actions to manage the staffing shortages. However, we may see more triaging of care and longer waits for non-urgent issues.”

Following a meeting of Canada’s provincial and territorial premiers this week, the CBC reported, Premier Caroline Cochrane suggested some progress in staffing was being made.

“Just within the last 30 days, we’re seeing an increase in nurses coming into the Northwest Territories,” the broadcaster quoted Cochrane as saying.

“It’s a start, but it’s something that we’re going to have to put a strong focus on – probably for the next couple of years.”

Green, meanwhile, warned of an “increase in incidents of aggressive behaviour toward healthcare staff” and asked residents to “have consideration for the staff who are doing their best to meet the needs of you and all residents.”

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