Nursing shortage leads to temporary closures at Nunavut health-care centres

Two of Nunavut's northernmost health centres are set to close for part of the summer due to a health-care staffing shortage, and five more will have reduced services. Virtual health, fly-in clinics and paramedics will be available instead.

Nurse recruitment 'very difficult' due to pandemic, nationwide shortage of health-care staff: health minister

The St. Therese's Health Centre in Kugaaruk, Nunavut, is among the facilities set to close for part of the summer, except to emergency services, as Nunavut grapples with a nationwide nursing shortage. (John Last/CBC)

A nationwide health-care staffing shortage appears to be affecting Nunavut particularly hard.

The Nunavut government announced on Friday it was temporarily closing its two northernmost community health centres for part of the summer due to a health-care staffing shortage in the territory. Health centres in five more communities will also close for part of the summer, except to emergencies. 

"The COVID-19 pandemic and a nationwide shortage of health-care staff have made the recruitment of nurses into the territory very difficult," Nunavut Health Minister Lorne Kusugak said in a news release Friday.

"My department developed contingency plans that will allow continuity of health services in affected communities while aggressively pursuing recruitment efforts throughout the summer."

A contract secured on March 23 with Bayshore Healthcare Agency has averted even more closures, but that could change, the territory said. The contract is set to provide nurse and midwifery services to Nunavut.

In the news release, the territory said that while the new partnership and hiring efforts over the past few weeks have allowed the Department of Health to avoid further summer closures, if staffing levels change, some closures may be necessary.

Lorne Kusugak, Nunavut's health minister, says the pandemic, combined with a nationwide shortage of healthcare staff has made recruiting nurses to the territory 'very difficult.' (Beth Brown/CBC)

The release said the Department of Health is working with government and territorial partners to make sure Nunavummiut have access to health care while it works to address the shortages.

The plan is to offer virtual health, fly-in clinics and paramedic services to clients instead in areas where there are centre closures.

Delays to be expected

Calls for health services may be automatically forwarded to other communities, the release said, and "callers are asked to not hang up if there are delays while the call is connecting."

Services, like prescription fillings, will continue to be offered from support staff, but Nunavummiut in affected communities are reminded there could be delays there, too.

Virtual public health staff, paramedics and other health staff will help with the territory's response to COVID-19, including helping with testing and conducting contact tracing and monitoring, the government said. 

Vaccines will also still be available by appointment and will be administered by paramedics or a licensed nurse practitioner.

The service reductions or closures could change based on staff availability.

The affected health centres set for closures include:

  • Grise Fiord Health Centre: Closure projected to begin in mid-August.
  • Resolute Bay Health Centre: Closure projected to begin in mid-August.

Health centres closed except to emergency services include:

  • St. Therese's Health Centre in Kugaaruk: Aug. 1-15.
  • Judy Hill Memorial Health Centre in Taloyoak: July 30 to Aug. 13.
  • Clyde River Health Centre: Aug. 9-24.
  • Sanikiluaq Health Centre: July 26 to Aug. 31.
  • Naujaat Health Centre: Aug. 12-31.