More time needed to hire new Keewatin nurses


Nunatsiaq News

RANKIN INLET – Though the plight of nurses in the Keewatin region has now attracted the attention NWT Health Minister Kelvin Ng, Keewatin health board staff can expect the crisis situation to continue for several more weeks.

“Many of them function in a state of chronic fatigue because of critical staffing deficiencies,” wrote Dr Ken Hedges in a Jan 14 letter in Kivalliq News.

Hedges resigned as the Keewatin’s medical director earlier this month after only seven weeks on the job.

Patients may be hurt

“It makes me angry to have seen several near to tears,” Hedges said. “It is evident that some very serious things have gone wrong to the point that sooner rather than later, someone (a patient, I mean) is going to get hurt by the system rather than helped by it.”

The state of health care in the region has been on a slippery slope downwards for several months.

Regional mayors and Inuit leaders have been demanding changes for months, but the region’s nurses only began to speak out in recent weeks.

Their concerns were brought out through a survey completed by former Rankin Inlet nurse Gerry Pflueger and the NWT nurses’ association.

Unsafe conditions

“We have offered the nurses, through the survey, a way to speak up with having a regional voice and not identifying individual nurses, because it appears the nurses here in Rankin and elsewhere are afraid to speak up individually,” Pflueger told a group of Keewatin leaders who held an emergency meeting with Ng last Friday to discuss the chronic shortage of nurses.

“The nurses have spoken out strongly about the unsafe and potentially unsafe conditions that exist in some of the Keewatin health centres today,” Pflueger said.

“The shortage of staff, the resulting low morale, lack of support, lack of policies and procedures and uncertainty regarding physician and specialist coverage have clearly set the stage for potential and actual conditions for unsafe nursing practice.”

Fear of reprisals

Practicing nurses won’t speak individually about the situation. They addressed this fear in a Jan 12 letter to the KRHB.

“We, the health-care staff, request a proper investigation of the KRHB by the minister of health with the specific request that the front-line workers be interviewed, if they wish, without fear of reprisal from the office of the executive director of the KRHB,” the letter states.

Myrna Michon, who quit her nursing job in Rankin Inlet last September and now manages the community’s friendship centre, said staff shortages and low morale were reasons she left.

“They were going to give us more nurses, so we didn’t bring in any agency nurses,” Michon said, explaining the board’s new policy to cut costs and increase the number of staff nurses.

“But we didn’t get any more nurses. In fact, after that, as our numbers went down, they were not replaced. I don’t know why positions weren’t filled.”

Michon’s old job and that of another experienced nurse who left about the same time remain vacant. This week the Rankin Inlet health centre was operating with only two nurses and a midwife.

Nurses more difficult to recruit

“There were literally no jobs in the South,” Michon recalled as one reason she moved to Rankin Inlet four years ago. That situation is changing, though, as demand for nurses begins to grow nationwide, making it even more difficult to recruit qualified nurses in the North.

And because nurses have been difficult to recruit, the health board has had to hire nurses with less experience.

Kivallivik MLA Kevin O’Brien recalls a nursing couple who recently left Arviat after only a short, stressful stay.

O’Brien said the couple had only about seven months experience and none in trauma care.

During their first week in Arviat, an elderly man died after being on a respirator all night. The same couple treated a five-year-old boy who died of internal injuries after falling off his bicycle.

“It’s not my intention to blame them,” O’Brien said shortly after last Friday’s meeting. “They’re thrown into a situation and it’s not their fault.”

When you’re asking people to work in a stressful condition, Michon explained, they need support.

No long-term vision

Nunavut Tunngavik President Jose Kusugak suggested during the meeting that the lack of a long-term vision for northern nursing is one reason many nurses leave.

“I really hope we get away from this 30-year-old model of hiring nurses, work them until they’re burned out, a two-year limit, then they go home,” Kusugak said.

Pflueger is one of only a few nurses who has stayed to make a life in the North.

“I am so moved by the people here. I have learned so much. I’ve been treated with love and respect by the people in the communities in which I’ve lived and that’s why I’m still here. I hope and pray I will not be alone as a nurse who stays in the community because she loves the community.”>>

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