Nunavut health centre down to minimum services amid nursing shortage

“We’re in dire straits right now”

Health centre in Baker Lake, Nunavut

Baker Lake’s health centre has been limited to emergency care for several weeks now due to nursing shortages in the Kivalliq community. (Photo courtesy of the Government of Nunavut)

By Sarah Rogers

(Updated at 3:30 p.m.)

“Baker Lake, the health centre is closed,” reads a Wednesday morning post to social media.

“Emergencies only will be seen. Please call before coming. Thank you for your patience.”

That’s nothing new for residents of Baker Lake, where the local health centre faces an ongoing shortage of nursing staff, who are working in a cramped and aging facility.

But community members say the centre has been down to just two nurses in recent months—in a centre meant to have 10—which has limited health care services to the bare minimum.

“We’re in dire straits right now in Baker Lake,” said the community’s MLA, Simeon Mikkungwak.

“This shortage has been going on for three years now. But we’ve been down to emergency calls only now for the last five or six weeks,” he said.

“If you call today and say you have an ear or a throat problem, you might be likely to see someone in three or four days.”

That’s been a problem this winter, when communities in the Kivalliq have seen an increase in respiratory illnesses.

But Mikkungwak said the poor access to health care has taken an even bigger toll on the community of 2,000; in the last three weeks alone, three community members have died by suicide.

Throughout 2018, Mikkungwak said the community’s Anglican church coordinated more than 50 funerals for Baker Lake residents who died of various causes.

And the demand for care is even greater now, following the closure of Baker Lake’s Martha Taliruq centre, an elders’ care facility that shut its doors last year.

The health centre also narrowly escaped a total loss in mid-December, when sources in the community say a fire broke out in one of the facility’s room, forcing a late-night evacuation. The centre sustained minimal smoke damage and re-opened the following day.

When asked about the shortage, the Government of Nunavut’s Health Department said that seven of the 10 nursing positions in Baker Lake are currently filled—six indeterminately, and one by a casual staffer.

Colleen Austin, the department’s assistant deputy minister of operations, said there are also two visiting mental health nurses in Baker Lake this week, with a third set to arrive later on Jan. 17.

“There is a nursing shortage throughout the country that uniquely impacts Nunavut due to contextual factors like geography, cost of living and availability of housing,” Austin said in a Jan. 17 statement emailed to Nunatsiaq News.

“Health is aware of the current impact staff shortages are having on services, and taking action to increase staffing levels.”

That action includes recruitment initiatives and a long-term recruitment and retention strategy that considers the well-being of current staff, she said.

But Mikkungwak said what the community needs now is stable and reliable care.

“In my opinion, a booming community with a gold mine in its own backyard, [the health centre] should be fully staffed,” he said.

“When you look at the health of our community, it’s been a real struggle.”

Mikkungwak said the centre itself is too small. Its waiting area fills easily and some patients are forced to share rooms while being treated.

The MLA said he has used his channels to the GN to emphasize the need for a new centre, but Baker Lake is essentially on a waiting list among other Nunavut communities in need.

Amid the closures, residents in Baker Lake say they’re grateful for the nursing staff in place for keeping basic services up and running.

A Baker Lake resident, who has to be medicated intravenously at the centre three times a day, said he’s been seen on schedule, although he sometimes has to share a room with another patient.

“They’ve been really good to me, even though they’re short staffed,” said the man, who did not want to be named.

Even with just a couple nurses on staff, Mikkungwak said the light remains on in the health centre every evening.

“I honestly think they must be exhausted,” he said. “It’s not a surprise that they go; they need to have good working conditions.”

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(31) Comments:

  1. Posted by Nicole Anstey on

    Allow LPNs to work and assist the RNs during crisis or RN shortage… it would be a great experience that allows for further professional development for the LPN’s and would assist the staff shortage..and it would also help with staff retntion …it a .win win for LPNs RNs and the ability to provide consistent quality care for the patients we serve …

    • Posted by Winna Murphy on

      I would be gone in a heart beat .36 yers as an LPN.just retired a year ago

      • Posted by its not that simple on

        while LPNs can provide some help during the day. what these nurses need are CHNs and NPs who can do after hours call – LPNs cannot do that.

        hopefully with this media attention – there has been an improvement in the CHN staffing numbers. oh how i feel for these nurses, having been in a similar position

  2. Posted by Andrea Nalautuq on

    Where did the number 50 funerals at Anglican church come from. Good number of funerals are at the community hall, because Anglican church does accept requests if you do not attend church. They refuse everything baptism, funerals and weddings.

    • Posted by Andrea Nalautuq on

      It should’ve written as ‘doesn’t accept’

  3. Posted by pissed off on

    This is tragic !!!!
    A community that has reached that size and so little to offer in terms of health both physical and mental health.

    Kujjuaq with a similar population has a proper hospital with a large staff and always a doctor in Town.

    Imagine a bad emergency at the mine or in Town and what they would have to respond with.

    Praise to the 2 nurses who keep the fort. No wonder the turnover is extremely high.
    Get rid of some deadwood at the head office and find money to staff the place properly.
    The people of Baker Lake deserve better.
    What is it gonna take ? A couple of articles in the Globe and Mail before the paper pushers feel compelled to do their job ?
    Thanks

  4. Posted by Dr. Doolittle on

    Authorize the nurses to hire a couple of people in Baker Lake to follow the nurses around for a week as trainees. Then have the nurses assign tasks to the trainees as the situation and their abilities permit.

    After another week, hire two more trainees to follow the nurses.

    It’s called learning through observation and practice. It’s been done for thousands of years.

    To anyone who objects, invite them to come and work at the Baker Lake Health Center or STFU.

    • Posted by Clarity on

      Ok let’s just see how this works out..lol. you need skills to do this work cant randomly take a community member and train them…obviously living under a rock

      • Posted by JE on

        There’s nothing wrong with training people. Maybe that’s what they need so that if they like nursing, they can go on to the Nunavut Arctic College Nursing program. It’s people like you that are constantly trying to put Inuit people down by thinking the way you do, that there is no way Inuit are capable of doing better than your race. Not even making an effort to help Inuit except saying that they need skills. The nurses themselves probably had to learn skills also before they became nurses. Sorry if I offend you but had to respond.

        • Posted by Big Nurse on

          LOL is right. Nursing takes four years of training minimum and a bachelors degree. You need classroom instruction in anatomy, biology, chemistry and other sciences, plus hundreds of hours of practical instruction. To become a nurse practitioner you need more instruction and experience. Sure you could take people from the community to follow the nurses around, but they will be nothing more than janitors and care workers, cleaning up messes and washing people up but they cannot be allowed to deliver real health care

          Besides it is illegal to work as a nurse without a licence from your regional association. What you are saying will never be possible.

          • Posted by Let’s not forget… on

            Let’s not forget that it is a specialized Nursing course that is required to work in most health centres in Nunavut. Most of the nurses working in the Territory have specialization in remote Nursing and other courses.

    • Posted by @Dr. Doolittle on

      Do you genuinely believe that 4 year Nursing Degree can be taught in a week through hands-on training?
      And what do you think is going to happen when someone dies because they were treated by someone off the street with a weeks training?

    • Posted by Ridiculous on

      You can’t replace nurses and doctors with locals through observation and on the job training. That’s the stupidest idea ever. How about treat healthcare professionals well instead of berating then and accusing them of malpractice?

      Nunnavummiut need to realize that there are doctor and nursing shortages everywhere in Canada and other parts of the world. These people have the option to work almost anywhere and accept positions and living conditions well above what Nunavut provides. Most health professionals who come here take a pay cut and choose to work here because they care and have a passion for what they do beyond getting paid. But these people often leave because they’re treated so poorly by the public.

  5. Posted by Miss Clarity on

    Anglican Church coordinating 50 funeral services in 2018 is incorrect.

  6. Posted by iRoll on

    In the ‘Nunavut’ mindset this Dr. Doolittle’s suggestion is perfectly sensible, just like picking berries or skinning an animal, just watch a learn! It’s been done this way for thousands of years…

    The level of absurdity is not just staggering, it’s depressing to read this kind of stupidity.

  7. Posted by Silas on

    The society in the south took a good century to arrive at the level of certification that the health profession has today. Inuit have lived in communities and started receiving an education in Nunavut for about sixty years. It has been a struggle as they have had to put up with extreme conditions, very limited resources and continue in that fashion today and more so as the standards are more stringent today.
    Until Inuit, in higher numbers, begin to receive the education, knowledge and wisdom to attain the levels of our friends of the western society, it will always be difficult to receive the services required in our communities. The ten Dept. of health positions in Baker Lake are a small example of jobs Inuit could be doing. That is just one department and one community, how many others are across the territory that Inuit will be doing? I believe it will happen, just a matter of time.

    • Posted by Google Hippocrates on

      It took Western civilization closer to thousands of years to reach the current levels of technical ability that we see in the health field today.

  8. Posted by Oh Ima on

    Only in an indigenous communities will third world conditions be accessible in Canada!!the man that committed suicide live with severe pain for such a long time! If these kind of situation happened in rural non indigenous communities Canadians would have a huge outcry!! I’m glad baker mla spoke up!! As I said this would not be acceptable in any Canadian city or town but why is it acceptable for Inuit of Nunavut

    • Posted by David on

      Sorry, but you are mistaken.

      This is very routine in the south too. Rural clinics and hospitals often are put on reduced hours if not closed at all for short periods of time. Too many think this is a Nunavut only problem, this is a national problem, as there is a national shortage of Health Care workers.

      For example https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/prince-edward-island/pei-kings-county-hospital-closed-1.4641681

      You’ll notice no screaming in this article.

  9. Posted by stephanie on

    Health worker here. A link where to send resumés would be appreciated.

    • Posted by Me on

      Google “nu government jobs”.
      Lots of postings

  10. Posted by Dr. DooLittle on

    Lots of comments here by people who seem to assume that the choice is between Registered Nurse or nothing.

    When you have two people trying to do the work of ten, every bit of help counts.

    Certainly no one will be a Nurse Practitioner after two weeks. But they could know how to change a bed when asked to do so by a nurse. They could know how to handle the soiled linen, where to put it, where to get clean linen and how to make the bed. That will save time for the RN.

    They could learn to change dressings on a wound. With experience they could know when the nurse should see the wound and when it is healing as it should.

    In time they could learn to put a cast on a simple fracture if directed to do so by the nurse.

    All these things save time for the over-worked nurses.

    After working as trainees for a few years, some of these people might decide to go to college or university and study nursing, or even medicine. Their practical experience would let them know what to expect in “the real world.”

    And don’t forget the medical education model. It is: “Watch one, do one, teach one.” That is how doctors are trained, after they learn theory in medical school.

    The reason it takes so long to be trained as a doctor is the vast range of things to learn. A doctor seldom knows what the next patient will present with. These trainees could start by learning a few things that will save time for a nurse. They would learn more over time. That’s why I refer to them as trainees.

    Will the MLAs have to pass a law to let people help nurses in Nunavut? Probably. That’s the job of the MLAs. Get to it.

  11. Posted by Thankful visitor on

    I have worked in Nunavut for several years as a nurse and loved it. I actually thought that the communities are pretty well staffed. If you go the the GN jobs website, they are only asking for a nurse in Coral Harbour and Pang…
    Perhaps Human Resources needs to create better awareness and increase hiring efforts.
    Hope and pray that the situation improves for Baker Lake. Kudos for speaking out about this issue.

  12. Posted by Diana Hoffman on

    I am a Registered Nurse in British Columbia and a counsellor with the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy and have training in art and play therapy. I would be interested in applying for an RN/counselling position from September 3, 2019 for 1 year in Baker Lake. I have a niece,her husband, and and my nephew living in Baker Lake.

    • Posted by SG on

      Diana, You should checkout http://www.nunavutnurses.ca and head over to their contact us page an get in touch with the Human resources officer for that region. It appears according to their website that for the Kivilliq region it is Carolina Hidalgo. http://nunavutnurses.ca/english/contact_us/index.shtml

      Don’t let this article scare anyone from considering Baker as a place to work as a nurse. The community is facing some substantial growth and with growth comes logistical growth issues at times. The north in general often finds itself in a staffing crisis at this time of the year. Christmas/New Years is often a time where there are shortages of staffing for obvious reasons as most nurses or any profession really that are not indeterminate choose to of course stay home over the holidays to be with their friends and families. Unfortunately for the communities It just happens that it is also a time where the flu pandemics and other seasonal respiratory illnesses that require more consistent care from doctors and nurses begin, therefore the lack of full staffing puts more of a strain on the system as a whole all across the North and even Southern hospitals feel the pain of staffing shortages as well.

      Baker Lake’s health centre although yes it may be aging the care that the staff provide the community is top notch. The health centre has a highly capable, dedicated long time Supervisor of Health Programs (SHP) formerly known as Nurse in Charge or NIC. She runs as tight of a ship as she can, she has no fear in putting herself knee deep into assisting the nurses in getting patients seen and cared for and along with her indeterminate nurses they all have many decades of nursing experience at all facets of nursing in all departments of hospitals. The support staff are good, the staff are all helpful to one another, they all support one another, they are all approachable, kind, caring and passionate about the services and care that they provide the community. The nurses are often running programs of all kinds.

      While some of this article maybe accurate there are some inconsistencies in information that was likely passed along to the reporter at the time of this article. I am in no way an employee of the health centre nor am I putting down the article, the news agency or the reporter; it was well written and Sarah Rogers is an excellent reporter. I just think that some info passed along to her by the MLA about the amount of annual deaths and amount of staffing that they are supposed to have is incorrect information. I also believe that saying things like “poor access to health care has taken an even bigger toll on the community of 2,000; in the last three weeks alone, three community members have died by suicide.” It is unprofessional, unjust and wrong to virtually blame the nurses and health centre for these unfortunate suicidal deaths. Suicides in remote communities are a problem, an even worse problem during this time of year.

      Creating change in the North cannot only fall on the shoulders of the Health Care system. It must fall on everyones shoulders in and out of the communities. Resources to build proper relationships, resources such as mentors to the youth, I do not mean teachers or outsiders I mean by members of the community that are professional, political, successful and business figures to help mold the youth into furthering their educations, enhancing their lives, mentors that give back to their said communities would go along way in building a solid community that would have a better ability to cope with personal stressful situations and reducing the thoughts of suicides or other harmful behaviours. Group sessions, private mentoring and positive banter I feel is something that all the communities lack. Some accounting programs so the workers understand and can plan for their futures rather than just instant gratification of spending their earned dollars from the mine or other employment avenues. A place for individuals to learn from elders, to learn about the olden days, their past, the current and to consider how to process and get to a positive future.

      Have you all heard of The Ice Bucket Challenge? Well here is a challenge to the MLA and the political parties in Baker Lake. You all talk the talk, so not let’s walk the walk. I challenge you to create some mentoring programs, home work groups even for the students that require it. But this has to be a program by the people for the people not by any other sider. Get in the faces of the local business owners that are in positions to sit down with a group even if only an hour once a week for a month, create a rotating schedule for them to sit down and they can all discuss their feelings, what they see what they’d like to see in Baker Lake. I urge all these business owners to get involved you are the people that can create change, that’s your challenge. Who will step up?

      It is good that this is being spoken of, things change and good things come out of bad situations with proper intelligent discussion. God Bless

    • Posted by SG on

      Diana,  You should checkout http://www.nunavutnurses.ca and head over to their contact us page an get in touch with the Human resources officer for that region. It appears according to their website that for the Kivalliq region it is Carolina Hidalgo. http://nunavutnurses.ca/english/contact_us/index.shtml

      Keep in mind they don’t always have all the open positions available listed which in itself maybe one issue with the HR department. You could also contact the health centre directly the number is available easily on Google.

      Don’t let this article scare anyone from considering Baker as a place to work as a nurse. The community is facing some substantial growth and with growth comes logistical growth issues at times. The north in general often finds itself in a staffing crisis at this time of the year. Christmas/New Years is often a time where there are shortages of staffing for obvious reasons as most nurses or any professional really that are not indeterminate choose to of course stay home over the holidays to be with their friends and families. Unfortunately for the communities It just happens that it is also a time where the flu pandemics and other seasonal respiratory illnesses that require more consistent care from doctors and nurses begin, therefore the lack of full staffing puts more of a strain on the system as a whole all across the North and even Southern hospitals feel the pain of staffing shortages as well not just the North.

      Baker Lake’s health centre although yes it may be aging the care that the staff provide the community is top notch. The health centre has a highly capable, dedicated long time Supervisor of Health Programs (SHP) formerly known as Nurse in Charge or NIC. She runs as tight of a ship as she can, she has no fear in putting herself knee deep into assisting the nurses in getting patients seen and cared for and along with her indeterminate nurses they all have many decades of nursing experience at all facets of nursing in all departments of hospitals. The indeterminate nurses are superb individuals and the transient nurses that come through are mostly all regulars that return several times a year and have been for many years. The support staff are good, the staff are all helpful to one another, they all support one another, they are all approachable, kind, caring and passionate about the services and care that they provide the community. The nurses are often running programs of all kinds even unpaid and on their own time.

      While some of this article maybe accurate there are some inconsistencies in information that was likely passed along to the reporter at the time of this article. I am in no way an employee of the health centre nor am I putting down the article, the news agency or the reporter; it was well written and Sarah Rogers is an excellent reporter.

      I just think that some info passed along to her by the MLA about the amount of annual deaths and amount of staffing that they are supposed to have is incorrect information. I also believe that saying things like “poor access to health care has taken an even bigger toll on the community of 2,000; in the last three weeks alone, three community members have died by suicide.” It is immature, unprofessional, unjust and wrong to virtually blame the nurses and health centre for these unfortunate suicidal deaths. Suicides in remote communities are a problem, an even worse problem during this time of year. 

      Creating change in the North cannot only fall on the shoulders of the Health Care system and or even the Canadian Government for that matter; It must fall on everyones shoulders in and out of the communities. Resources to build proper relationships, resources such as mentors to the youth, I do not mean teachers or outsiders I mean by members of the community that are professional, political, successful and business figures to help mold the youth into furthering their educations, enhancing their lives, mentors that give back to their said communities would go along way in building a solid community that would have a better ability to cope with personal stressful situations and reducing the thoughts of suicides or other harmful behaviours and increase positivity instead of negativity. Group sessions, private mentoring and positive banter I feel is something that all the communities lack. Some business, accounting and even maybe some I.T programs so the youth and workers understand and can plan for their futures rather than just instant gratification of spending their earned dollars from the mine or other employment avenues. A place for individuals to learn from elders, to learn about the olden days, their past, the current and to consider how to process life and get to a positive future. 

      Have you all heard of The Ice Bucket Challenge or any other challenge for that matter? Well here is a challenge to the MLA and the political parties in Baker Lake. You all talk the talk, so now let’s walk the walk. I challenge you to create some mentoring programs, home work groups even for those students that require it who maybe suffering in classes.

      However this has to be a program run by the people for the people not by any out sider. MLA and politicians get in the faces of the local business owners that are in positions to sit down with a group of kids or workers, even if only an hour once a week for a month, create a rotating schedule for them to sit down and they can all discuss their feelings, what they see what they’d like to see in Baker Lake. I urge all these business owners to get up and get involved, you are the people that can create change and help the youth, that’s your challenge. Who will step up?

      It is good that this is being spoken of, things change and good things come out of bad situations with  proper intelligent discussion.  God Bless

      • Posted by Rob M Adams on

        Thank you SG

      • Posted by Me on

        Here is a huge part of the problem, the Nunavut nursing website you posted does not have one current job posting, November 30 close date was the most recent. I am sure the recruiting person either quit or is acting in another position and has not been replaced nor has that position been posted.

        I agree there is a national nursing shortage but if you don’t advertise, people don’t know you are looking for staff #GeorgeHicks! The hospital is constantly under-staffed yet there are no postings on the internet, no recruitment program and little give a s#*t for the over- worked staff.

        • Posted by SG on

          There aren’t any current listings for Baker Lake you are correct on that one and like I said in my long reply there is an issue with the GN hiring process in general.
          http://nunavutnurses.ca/english/jobs/current_opportunities.shtml

          However there are some current listings in other regions the link is above. But if you go on indeed.ca search location Nunavut and job Nurse you will see other listings.

      • Posted by Nanauq on

        Ma`na, SG.

  13. Posted by Kyle on

    no posting so its your own government of the people for the peoples fault… people casting stones are down south and all this garbage. You had an Inuit nurse worked her to the bone and what happened she left plain and simple. Dealing with patients and family who are not appreciative call at all house for sniffling noses and scratches like come on even sending pictures and information by text and messenger.

    As a community people are immature and expect everything now. The head nurse could start by treating her staff better, the government needs to look at employee retention because where are the locals that are stepping up its a majority of southerners who are sacrificing their family time to come and serve the people in Nunavut

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