11 community health centres to shut down this summer
Shutdowns will be temporary and range from days to weeks, health minister says
Eleven of Nunavut’s 25 communities will see their health centres shut down temporarily during the summer due to staffing shortages, according to Nunavut’s health minister.
Igloolik, Whale Cove, Kimmirut, Chesterfield Inlet, Sanikiluaq, Pangnirtung, Grise Fiord, Kinngait, Gjoa Haven, Pond Inlet and Coral Harbour will all see shutdowns this summer, Health Minister John Main told Nunatsiaq News.
“I understand the importance of health centres and I really regret this has to happen,” Main told the legislature Monday in response to a question about health centre closures asked by Amittuq MLA Joelie Kaernerk.
Some communities will be closed for weeks and others for days, Main said, adding he is hesitant to get more specific because the length of closures may change.
There will still be staff in the health centres during closures, but they will be focused on emergencies and life-threatening situations only, Main said.
During closures, some services will not be available or will be delayed, Main said.
The closures are due to nursing shortages in the communities, Main said. He added that a lack of available nurses to come to the communities and staff burnout are two of the larger reasons for that shortage.
A lack of available health staff is a problem being tackled not only in Nunavut, but across Canada, he added.
But the root of the challenge is that the GN is struggling to keep up with the number of nurses needed for Nunavut’s growing communities, Main said, adding that the health infrastructure is not growing alongside the communities.
“It’s been quite a while that this has been a concern” Main said.
“It’s something we have to tackle as the Department of Health.”
For health situations that are chronic, such as getting prescriptions, Main recommended reaching out to health centre staff before the closure. He added that otherwise those services will be delayed or have to be done virtually.
To alleviate the reduction in services, the GN is bringing back a program it ran last year where two paramedics are provided to communities with closures, Main said. He added the GN will also provide virtual health services to communities.
Doctor visits to communities with health centre closures will also still take place, Main said.
To try and limit the length of closures or avoid them altogether, the GN has developed a task force, Main said.
He added that one of the initiatives of that task force includes reallocating staff from one community to another.
In order to help, Health staff in communities have also been delaying their leave, he said.
The department also runs a program where staff who are working in a community over the summer can have a friend or family member flown with them, with the GN covering the cost of that person’s flight.
“We’ve been doing what we can to avert this,” he said.
The problem of health centre closures is not new. In 2021, two health centres closed during the summer and eight had service cuts due to the nursing shortage.
Communities whose health centres are going to close will get notice two weeks in advance, Main said.