Baker Lake MLA calls for more staff at health centre

Nunavut’s health minister says “resources are tied up”

Baker Lake’s health centre is too small and remains understaffed, says the community’s MLA, Craig Simailak. But no immediate solution to these issues appears likely. (File photo)

By Jane George

Baker Lake, with a population of about 2,100, wants a larger, better-staffed health centre, but a Nov. 3 discussion in the Nunavut legislature suggests this growing community’s residents will have to wait for this.

“There is an ongoing lack of resources and staffing at the Baker Lake Health Centre,” Baker Lake MLA Craig Simailak said in the chamber, where he also tabled a letter from the mayor asking for improvements in the community’s health-care delivery.

“I also feel that given the growth of the community in recent years, the number of staff positions at the Baker Lake Health Centre should be increased overall.”

Health Minister George Hickes told Simailak he would like to deal with the staffing shortfalls in Baker Lake and throughout Nunavut, but, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, “a lot of our resources are tied up.”

“There are a lot of people that would normally be working on efforts such as that that are dealing with COVID issues or the domino impact of other people working on COVID issues and they’re having to help supplement or fulfill other duties,” he said.

The crunch at the Baker Lake Health Centre is not new. Last January, even before the pandemic, the health centre was down to minimum services amid a nursing shortage.

The Health Department’s website shows it’s now looking for a supervisor of health programs as well as a nurse practitioner in Baker Lake.

“I’m well aware of Baker Lake,” Hickes said. “There are 30 positions in that health centre and right now just over half of them are filled indeterminately. We have 13 casual positions filling in some of those gaps, but the majority of those … are under casual staffing actions, which doesn’t bring a sense of stability to the facility. We’re continuing to work on efforts of recruitment and retention and we will continue to do so under these extreme circumstances.”

In 2019, Nunavut’s Health Department said a new recruitment and retention package for nurses was in the works, but this has yet to be released.

But, during the last sitting of the legislature, Hickes said COVID-19 has made it even harder to recruit nurses.

And there’s a new problem affecting the delivery of health care in the Kivalliq region–the reduction of medical travel booked from there to Winnipeg.

New restrictions are now in place in Winnipeg, after Manitoba moved to code red on the COVID-19 warning scale on Oct. 30.

This means hospitals have had to suspend non-urgent and elective procedures, and, at the moment, there are also COVID-19 outbreaks at two hospitals in Winnipeg.

To trim non-essential medical travel, Nunavut’s clinical staff spent last weekend reviewing 170 cases for scheduled medical travel out of the Kivalliq region, Hickes said.

They also plan to look at 180 more files this week, making decisions about who will travel next week on a “case-to-case basis.”

“Some people will continue to travel as needed,” he said.

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