GN nurses encouraged to do rotating job-shares

Ailing CamBay health centre finds a cure


CAMBRIDGE BAY – Sheets of plywood nailed over the Kitikmeot Health Centre's second floor windows and back entrance are the last visible remains of an Aug. 1 fire that caused $2.2 million in damages and closed the facility for six weeks.

By January 2008, the last of the repairs on two damaged patient rooms will be complete.

Then the health centre plans to start offering half-day in-patient care. By next summer, the in-patient care will include 24-7 care, said the health centre's director Mike Burdett.

The arrival of 12-hour in-patient care means patients who require intravenous medicine or observation by nurses will be able to stay in the health centre during the day – care that nurses at the old nursing station regularly provided.

Expanded in-patient care at the $20-million health centre also means the nine patient rooms on the spacious second floor will finally be used for the first time since the health centre opened two years ago.

The expanded in-patient care may result in fewer medevacs from Cambridge Bay, Burdett said, because nurses will have more time to closely evaluate a patient's condition before making a decision on whether it's necessary to send them south.

However, expectant mothers will continue to travel to Yellowknife or Edmonton to deliver for at least another year. They'll have to wait until sometime in 2009 before they give birth in the health centre's state-of-the-art maternity unit, with its padded delivery table, a new baby crib, and comfy rocker.

That's because Burdett said the health centre won't offer more services until it can guarantee patient care and safety, with all the necessary equipment and staff, such as trained midwives, in place.

But even when the health centre offers round-the-clock in-patient care, there's unlikely to be a doctor on site most of the time. Instead, nurses and nurse practitioners will assume more of the responsibilities traditionally carried by doctors, Burdett said.

As for the shortage of nurses in Nunavut, there are "no traditional solutions," Burdett said.

To find and keep the skilled southern nurses in the Kitikmeot, Burdett now encourages nurses to job share. He said few nurses are interested in taking on full-time indeterminate positions with the GN in the region.

Using permanent, part-time nurses, called "casuals" by the GN, eliminates the revolving door of agency nurses and is an effective way of keeping staff numbers up, Burdett said. Another plus is that job-sharing nurses get to know patients, because they return to the same community several times a year, unlike agency nurses.

There are now 19 nurses working in the Kitikmeot on this permanent, part-time basis. The health centre has four community health nurses and nursing supervisor. Of these nurses, only one is indeterminate.

Job sharing means a nurse can work for three months in Cambridge Bay, or in one of the other Kitikmeot communities, and then return south. Three months later this same nurse returns, works for another three months and leaves again. During this nurse's absence, the other job-sharing nurse takes over.

These nurses receive round-trip airfare to and from the region, Burdett said, although they do pay for their housing in transit.

According to Burdett, the real perk in job-sharing is that these nurses can upgrade their skills when they're out of the region by working in hospital trauma or obstetrics wards in the South. He said this results in more highly-trained nurses for the Kitikmeot who also are familiar with their patients and the communities.

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