N.W.T. government releases plan to address health-care staffing shortage

N.W.T. Minister of Health and Social Services Julie Green has released a long-range human resources plan to address challenges to the recruitment and retention of health and social services staff across the territory.

Plan aims to reduce vacancy and turnover rates, and to increase Indigenous representation in health care

A new human resources plan for the N.W.T. Department of Health and Social Services outlines six goals to attract professionals and keep them employed.  (Shutterstock)

The N.W.T. government has developed a plan to address staffing gaps in the health and social services department.

Recruitment and retention of health and social services staff in the territory has long been an issue, with the pandemic exacerbating the problem. 

The new long-range human resources plan, released Friday, aims to reduce vacancy and turnover rates, and to increase Indigenous representation throughout the system.

Julie Green, minister of health and social services, said the COVID-19 pandemic caused staff shortages that further strained the system.

"Last summer, staffing shortages throughout our health-care system became so severe we had to reduce service delivery. Both recruitment and retention became much more challenging." 

Tim Van Overliw is the executive director of corporate support services for the Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authority (NTHSSA). During a media briefing on Friday, he acknowledged that there is a national shortage of health professionals, with the N.W.T. being one of the jurisdictions hit the hardest. 

"One of the primary challenges we'll have over the next several years is attracting talent to the N.W.T., as well as attracting talent within the N.W.T. to work in health and social services careers," he said. 

The human resources plan outlines six goals to attract professionals and keep them employed. 

This includes a transformation of the N.W.T. health and social services system into a learning organization that provides a variety of professional development, academic support, e-learning, and mentorship initiatives. 

Other initiatives include:

  • Entry surveys for new employees to better understand their recruitment experiences.
  • Exit surveys and interviews with existing employees, including physicians, to identify factors that contributed to avoidable, voluntary departures. 
  • The creation of a talent strategy that develops new leaders and staff who aspire to management positions.
  • Targeted marketing campaigns to attract new graduates and physicians. 
  • Improved health, safety, and wellness support systems for employees.

As for attracting and recruiting Indigenous and northern residents to pursue careers in health and social services, the plan outlines opportunities for them to receive bursaries, mentorship, and access to employment programs.

Van Overliw says the details in the plan also reflect what they've gathered overall as important incentives to staff aside from pay and benefits. 

"It's providing the capacity, meaning the time for individuals to actually be able to take that training and develop within their role." 

He adds that a large section of this plan is about engaging staff, and hearing where they want to see changes. 

The health and social services department aims to meet its targets and objectives by 2024. 


Celeste Decaire

CBC Reporter

Celeste Decaire is a reporter with CBC Ottawa. She can be reached at and on her Twitter account @celestedecaire.