'Uncontrollable circumstances' blamed for staff shortage at Fort Smith health centre

Appointments at the Fort Smith Health Centre will be limited for the rest of the month and into August, said the N.W.T.'s Health and Social Services Authority. Urgent follow-up appointments will be prioritized, with no same-day appointments.

Nationwide health staff shortage, loss of permanent physicians are both factors

A sign for Fort Smith Health and Social Services, pictured in September 2019. The community's health centre will have limited capacity this summer due to a staffing shortage, with urgent follow-up appointments prioritized and no same-day appointments. (Mario Di Ciccio/Radio-Canada)

The Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authority is warning Fort Smith, N.W.T., residents about a shortage of healthcare workers.

It says appointments at the community's health centre will be limited due to "uncontrollable circumstances" for the rest of the month and into August.

Urgent follow-up appointments will be prioritized and there will be no same-day appointments. As well, a doctor will be on call in the emergency department.

The development comes as healthcare worker shortages are being reported across the country.

Last week, the Nunavut government said it was temporarily closing seven health care centres for non-urgent care.

A spokesperson from the health authority wrote in a statement that the "N.W.T., as a whole has not been spared" from these shortages. 

"The loss of several permanent physicians in recent months, primarily due to relocating for family-related reasons, has further contributed to the shortage," wrote the spokesperson. 

Fort Smith residents seeking non-urgent care should call the primary care clinic. The health authority says it will update the public on the town's Facebook page.

It's not the first time the health centre has faced a shortage in staff. On Dec. 30, 2019, the health centre posted to Facebook that there would be a shortage of health-care providers in January 2020 because of "unforeseen circumstances."

Fort Smith's health centre was also forced to close down its medical clinic for two weeks in August 2018 because of a similar doctor shortage. At the time, representatives from the health authority blamed vacations during the summer season for the delays.

The health department said they are "continuing our significant efforts to recruit more permanent and locum physician staff to the territory," including recruitment fairs and conferences, along with increased advertisements. 

They are also reaching out to past locums for additional support and exploring virtual care options to complement existing services.


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