Cape Dorset wants its nurses back

Two nurses leave because they can’t get bonus


IQALUIT — Cape Dorset residents are upset that two experienced nurses have departed for other communities.

The well-liked nurses logged years of service in Nunavut, but weren’t eligible for a new cash bonus intended to keep nurses in the territory.

Many Cape Dorset residents want to know if the government did enough to persuade them to stay.

“I don’t like it. They knew my children,” said a young Cape Dorset mother.

Under the territorial government’s bonus scheme, nurses who agree to work in Nunavut for three years get a $6,000 signing bonus, an extra $2,000 every three months for two years, and $2,000 at the end of their second year.

This package adds up to an extra $24,000 in addition to their regular salary.

But the nurses who recently left Cape Dorset weren’t eligible for the bonus because they weren’t considered to be full-time, resident nurses.

One of the nurses had worked in the community for eight years, and the other one for 10 years, but they worked on three-month rotation periods.

As a result, they were considered part-timers, and didn’t qualify.

When better-paying jobs in other regions started to look more attractive, they left.

“I’m pretty sure it’s a big loss for the people in Cape Dorset. We were used to them. We knew them, and they knew how to treat people,” said South Baffin MLA Olayuk Akesuk, whose home community is Cape Dorset.

Health Minister Ed Picco concedes that Nunavut is still suffering from stiff competition in its efforts to recruit and retain nurses.

“It’s the most in-demand profession in the country,” Picco said.

Many nursing stations in Nunavut remain chronically understaffed. For most of the summer, only two nurses were on duty in Pangnirtung, although normal staffing levels call for five.

Picco insists Nunavut’s health care system is “not in a crisis” due to the lack of nurses.

“We haven’t closed down any health centres,” Picco said.

Picco said the arrival of a dozen or so nurses from Australia within a few weeks will ease understaffing in nursing stations.

These new nurses from Australia will get the recruitment bonus, even though they signed up before it was announced.

Despite the lure of more money, a long-time nurse in the Baffin region says the bonuses won’t encourage many young nurses to make a long commitment to nursing in Nunavut.

The kind of education that nurses receive discourages them from looking north. Newly-graduated nurses often have university degrees, and they prefer high-tech nursing in large hospital centres to hands-on care in outpost stations.

“Young people come to Nunavut for ‘the experience,’ instead of making it a career,” one nurse said.

The loss of older, “career” nurses in Nunavut means that of Nunavut’s 125 nurses, there are now only about 25 with more than 10 years experience in the eastern Arctic.

Picco said the way out of this situation lies in increasing the number of local nurses through Nunavut Arctic College’s nursing program.

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