North

Nursing shortage hits Stanton Territorial Hospital as ICU beds go from 4 to 2

A notice posted by Nahendeh MLA Shane Thompson to Facebook “on behalf” of the N.W.T.’s health minister, says the entire N.W.T. health-care system may experience reduced staffing capacity over the next few weeks.

'Any service reductions or closures will be communicated proactively,' health authority promises

Stanton Territorial Hospital in Yellowknife has gone from four ICU beds to two due to staff shortages. A spokesperson for the N.W.T.'s health and social services authority said the reduction will stay in place until the end of the month.  (Sara Minogue/CBC)

A nationwide nursing shortage has reached the Northwest Territories. 

A notice posted by Nahendeh MLA Shane Thompson to Facebook "on behalf" of Julie Green, the N.W.T.'s health minister, said that the entire N.W.T. health-care system may experience reduced staffing capacity over the next few weeks.

On Monday, Stanton Territorial Hospital in Yellowknife dropped to having two ICU beds open for critical patients, instead of the four that are normally available, the post said. The other two beds will be kept for what the department is calling "lower acuity patients" or those who are not at immediate risk. 

David Maguire, a spokesperson for the N.W.T.'s health and social services authority, told CBC in a statement that the reduction will stay in place until the end of August, and then the health authority will re-evaluate.

The statement blamed three factors: difficulties in recruitment, a "highly competitive" job market and vacancies from departures or retirements. 

"N.W.T. health and social services authorities are working diligently to close any gaps in staffing before they impact services," the statement reads. "Where this is not possible, any service reductions or closures will be communicated proactively to staff and the public if and when they occur."

If there are any more than two critical patients at Stanton, they will be diverted to Alberta for admission or whenever they are stable. 

The reduction in services means transfers of N.W.T. patients for medical treatment will happen "sooner or more often than usual." 

Maguire told CBC in a statement that they've been preparing since the end of July for reducing staffing levels. 

To date, no patients have had to be moved or diverted because of these changes, Maguire said.

Provinces and territories 'vying' for shrinking workforce  

Denise Bowen, executive director of the  Registered Nurses Association of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, told CBC in a statement that the nursing shortage is something seen throughout the country and the world right now because of the pandemic, and is affecting both northern territories. 

Provinces and territories are "vying" for a bigger share of a shrinking workforce, and, in some cases, offering recruitment bonuses, Bowen said. That makes staffing northern positions that much more difficult. 

"We have heard anecdotally that an increasing number of nurses are considering leaving the territories," Bowen said. 

That is, if they stay in the profession at all. Many are also considering leaving the profession entirely, she continued — another challenge for recruiting nurses to the North. 

Bowen said the N.W.T. and Nunavut support a call by national organizations for "greater collaboration" between governments, unions, regulators and the education sector to figure out what the root causes are for the nationwide nursing shortage. 

With files from Liny Lamberink

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