Nunavut leaders celebrated the opening of Iqaluit's new hospital Friday, but the territory's health minister warned that it will face challenges recruiting nurses and other medical staff for the facility.
Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq and Premier Paul Okalik opened the new Qikiqtani General Hospital in a ceremony Friday morning.
Despite Friday's grand opening, thehospital won't be fully operationalfor another two tothree weeks, as staff transfer services from theexisting Baffin Regional Hospital.
The 35-bed full-servicefacilitywill serve patients from 13 communities inNunavut's Qikiqtaaluk region. The old hospital building will house physicians' and specialists' clinics, outpatient services anda pharmacy.
It has taken 11 years and $64 million for the facility to reach opening day. Okalik said thehospital was envisioned long before Nunavut became its own territory in 1999.
The premierthanked the MLAs in Nunavut's first legislative assembly, whoprioritized construction ofthe hospital, as well as current MLAs for seeing the project to completion.
"I must say I'm very pleased with this project," Okalik said Friday. "It was in my last election campaign, so I said, 'I would complete it.' So it's very nice to see that one of my commitments is being honoured."
Governmentto launch recruitment campaign
Thehospital will have new services such as a birthing centre, diagnostic imaging, a blood testing laboratory and more day surgery beds.
Thirteen new positions are open at the hospital, but Aglukkaq could not say how many new doctors or nurses are needed.
Aglukkaq told CBC News that a worldwide shortage of nurses makes it more difficult to recruit them to the North.
"By 2011, we'll have a shortage of 78,000 nurses worldwide," Aglukkaq said Thursday. "So as a government … it's a challenge now. It'll only get worse."
She said the territorial government will launch a new nurses recruitment strategy during the next sitting of the legislative assembly, which begins Oct. 23.
MLAs first officially launched construction of the hospital in July 1998, but several delays resulted in a second sod-turning ceremony in 2003.