GN denies staff-starved Qikiqtani hospital facing shut down
Hospital fears scare worker from Iqaluit
Fearing that the Qikiqtani Regional Hospital might shut down, an Alberta doctor recently nixed a job-transfer request from a federal government employee in the South who wanted to work in Iqaluit.
That's because the doctor is worried that a hospital shut down might be unwise for the 50-year old civil servant and her older spouse.
"I have applied to go to Iqaluit and have been told the hospital was closing any day now due to lack of staff," the employee said March 19 in an email to Nunatsiaq News.
While a top-level Nunavut government source and a health department spokesperson assured Nunatsiaq News this week that no hospital closure is in the works, other sources within the health department say staff levels at the hospital recently dropped so low that shutting down some services was seriously under discussion.
The sources say that Dr. Steve Gray, then the acting hospital director, prepared a memo for the public about a month ago.
This advisory warned that the hospital might have to reduce certain services due to a shortage of essential medical staff.
Sources within the hospital, however, allege the Government of Nunavut's Department of Executive and Intergovernmental Affairs stopped the memo's release.
Yasmina Pepa, a spokesperson for the health department, said she isn't sure what memo this was.
"The memo is irrelevant, whatever it says, because nothing has closed," Pepa said.
Pepa said the only issue she recalls is that two pregnant women were sent south as a "precautionary" measure because the understaffed operating room may not have been able to handle complicated deliveries.
But last month the nursing shortage at the hospital was so bad that the military was called to fill in.
A Canadian Forces nurse, who formerly worked at a civilian hospital in Halifax, helped staff the hospital's operating room Feb. 18-27.
Calling the military was the last resort after nursing agencies couldn't find a nurse qualified to work in an operating room – and only one of the two operating rooms has been in use since the hospital last October.
Information about a possible service shut-down at the Qikiqtani hopsital would have circulated around the time when health minister Leona Aglukkaq appeared in the legislative assembly to defend the department's need for more money.
Aglukkaq did acknowledge there are many job openings in the health department.
Of Nunavut's 211 nursing jobs, 70 remain unfilled, Aglukkaq said Feb. 22 in the legislature.
This week the recruitment site, medhunters.com, carried 24 job advertisements for nurses in Nunavut, including nurses needed for jobs in acute care, community health, the emergency ward, psychiatry, plus one operating room nurse, two advanced practice nurses, one nursing support assistant, and two nurse managers.
The nursing vacancies are located throughout Nunavut, although the more specialized nurses are designated for Iqaluit.
The hospital also needs a radiographer, a dietician and director of hospital services, and doctors.
The GN maintains a separate doctor recruitment website where it promotes temporary postings for doctors, who can expect to receive up to $1,400 a day, plus travel and living expenses.
Parts of the old Baffin Regional Hospital closed due to a staff shortage in 2000, when a shortage of nurses forced health officials to reduce the number of beds from 18 to 12.
The new Qikiqtani Regional Hospital has even more patient beds to look after – a total of 34. These include 19 acute care beds for adults and 12 beds for children. The hospital also has eight newborn bassinets.
Moreover, Qikiqtani Regional Hospital is still not accredited – the only one of the three major hospitals in the territories to fall short of that basic standard.
The Canadian Council on Health Services Accreditation refused to grant accreditation to the hospital in late 2005, when it was still lodged in its old building.
The accreditation designation is voluntary but still carries clout in medical circles.
"The idea is all about quality and safety, and don't you want to work somewhere that has a reputation and is providing high-quality and safe care?" said Liane Craig, the council's director of strategic communications.
The move to withhold accreditation meant the hospital did not meet national standards, although the health services council had granted it accreditation since the early 1990s.
To get accreditation from the council, a hospital must meet certain minimum standards of service. The most important criteria are quality and risk to patients, which the council defines as the risk of "danger, loss or injury."
The council found there were no plans for infection control, pain management, disaster or emergencies and human resources, no quality control or evaluations, poor internal communication, poor communication with clients, no complaint mechanism for clients, poor health promotion and poor staff morale.
Understaffing was also an issue, the council's report noted, causing frustration, absenteeism, low morale, stress, resignations, and sub-standard patient care.
Last October, Aglukkaq said her department planned to present a "self-assessment" to the health services council on its progress in bringing the hospital up to standard.