Doctor shortage hits Hay River, N.W.T.

The town of Hay River has been scrambling to fill a month-long doctor shortage of doctors and nurse practitioners after two locum physicians cancelled their plans to visit.

Hay River's hospital can support 5 full-time doctors, but there are 3 in the town right now

Regular staffing levels are expected to resume at Hay River's hospital on the week of May 20, officials say. (Kirsten Murphy/CBC)

The town of Hay River, N.W.T., is scrambling to fill a month-long shortage of doctors and nurse practitioners after two locum physicians cancelled their plans to work there.

Bonnie Kimble, acting CEO for the Hay River Health And Social Services Authority, says the community already has a less-than-ideal staffing situation — based on its annual budget, the town's hospital can have five doctors in the community. However, it has only three full-time permanent doctors right now.

Usually, the health authority uses locums, or doctors on short contracts, to fill in the staffing gaps.

"When we have our three permanent physicians, we have a target of two to three visiting locums," Kimble explained.

After two of the town's full-time doctors went on leave, the health authority secured two locums to fill in — and were recruiting for more — when the two who had planned to come backed out.

"That was just something that was out of our control," said Kimble. 

Kimble said the hospital's recruiter has been emailing and calling doctors, "one-on-one, to see if they'd be able to help us out during this shortage."

She says that doctors from southern Canada and other parts of the Northwest Territories have been coming in for as little as one or two days at a time to help fill the gaps. The hospital is keeping its 24-hour emergency department open.  

On Wednesday, "we didn't have anybody scheduled and thankfully we were able to recruit somebody to cover," said Kimble.

During the shortage, the doctors are focused on in-patient care, long-term care and home care, as well as reviewing any incoming test results from patients. The local pharmacy is also renewing some prescription medications, after talking to the doctor, so people don't need to visit the hospital to get the medicine they need.

Kimble says the hospital will return to its usual staffing levels on the week of May 20.