Nunavut spends nearly $3M annually on security at health centres

“I find it appalling that health-care professionals, who are really trying hard to work for our people, feel in danger,” says health minister

Baker Lake’s health centre is among those in Nunavut that are now understaffed. Nunavut’s health minister, George Hickes, says some health centres are difficult to staff due to COVID-19 and “because people talk, health professionals talk” about the lack of safety they may feel while working. (File photo)

By Jane George

Nunavut spends nearly $3 million a year to provide security in territorial health centres, says Health Minister George Hickes.

“I believe we spent $2.7 million on security in health centres last year,” Hickes told the legislature on Tuesday, Sept. 22, in response to questions from Pangnirtung MLA Margaret Nakashuk.

Nakashuk wanted to know more about the hiring of security guards for her community’s health centre, but her line of questioning prompted Hickes to explain why the security is necessary.

“I find it appalling that health-care professionals, who are really trying hard to work for our people, feel in danger,” he said.

As a result of these security concerns, Hickes said some health centres are difficult to staff “because people talk, health professionals talk.”

“There are certain communities where they do not want to work in because of the way they’re treated,” he said.

Hickes didn’t offer any specifics about cases of health staff feeling unsafe. But in 2017, the auditor general of Canada released a damning report on Nunavut’s Health Department that raised security concerns. Health officials at the time told the legislature that, over the previous year, three violent incidents took place in health centres, prompting the resignation of one nurse.

In response to these concerns, the department decided to put security systems in 10 communities: Kinngait, Iqaluit, Pangnirtung, Pond Inlet, Arviat, Baker Lake, Rankin Inlet, Cambridge Bay, Gjoa Haven and Kugluktuk.

“We have security guards in our health centres that I don’t have budgets for, but for the wellness of the staff and the other clients in the health centre, for their safety, we’re forced to put security guards into these health centres,” Hickes told Nakashuk.

Nakashuk said that local residents should fill those security positions. But Hickes said that efforts to do so have been unsuccessful so far.

” I think we have to get to the underlying issues … of why there is this turnover and why we can’t seem to keep local security staff on site,” Hickes told Nakashuk.

“There is training associated with it and it’s a great career opportunity for people. I think we need to really sit down as a group and look at it from different perspectives on why we continue to struggle to keep these positions staffed.”

Meanwhile, some of the territory’s health centres, such as the one in Baker Lake, remain understaffed and open only for emergencies.

COVID-19 has exacerbated the urgent need to find more health workers, Hickes told Baker Lake MLA Craig Simailak, who asked Sept. 21 in the legislature about the shortage of nurses at his community health centre.

“These are unprecedented times that we’re currently dealing with, and it’s a huge challenge and a massive undertaking for not just nurse recruitment but other health specialties as well to find people to be able to come to Nunavut to work,” Hickes said.

Dozens of full-time nurses have been hired across the territory, he said.

“And we allocate to make sure that the demands are being met as best we can,” he said.

Last year, to improve hiring success, the Health Department said a new recruitment and retention package for nurses was in the works, but this has yet to be released.

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(13) Comments:

  1. Posted by Paul Murphy on

    I live in Kugluktuk and have been to the health centre a number of times.

    I have yet to see any visible signs of a security person there. So, Sir, someone over in Iqaluit is giving you incorrect information and ensures you are embarassed at the LA.

  2. Posted by Where is it? on

    Last year, to improve hiring success, the Health Department said a new recruitment and retention package for nurses was in the works, but this has yet to be released.
    When will the Department of Health commit to table the retention package? The Department of HR not letting these professionals take vacation in the south is the opposite of a retention strategy and people are leaving Nunavut in droves if you look at the jobs website postings.

  3. Posted by Uvanga Inuk on

    Maybe if they fill some of the Mental Health positions, people can get help. Everyone knows the Government of Nunavut has never put a priority on mental health and all the issues that it brings up. They found money for security guards, up the salary for the counsellor positions. The Minister should not use such descriptive adjectives,
    i.e. appalling. I find it appalling that the Government has failed its people in accessing medical services including mental health and suicide interventions.

  4. Posted by Jannine Bowen on

    It would help if you sent a survey to the casual nurses who come up and back on a rotational bases. We could answer your questions on this topic of security and retention, etc. Local guards can be helpful and I have seen it work but they to have trouble with their paperwork and pay. Please reach out to us and you will have your research and stats to help you go forward.

  5. Posted by Cecelia Sartoris on

    I have been working in Nunavut the past three 3 years. I love it up there. In regards to nursing I am an LPN. I let my license run out in December 2019. Personal reasons. I tried to renew in March and I have to go thru the whole process of hiring. I think due to the circumstances COVID and all they would have overlooked this and reactivated my licenses ASAP as I was hearing shortage of nurses. I feel in Igloolik where the CCC is so far away from anyone the outside lighting was an issue. I dont feel we needed security. Nor the staff as they have never brought it up but the lighting we did.

  6. Posted by Concerned Inuk on

    The Minister should educate himself before opening his mouth and say it’s “appalling” to need security in health centres in Nunavut. There are security guards in hospitals across Canada and around the world. He is stigmatizing Nunavut and the communities he mentions.

    He opens his mouth without critical thinking, which is not good to do as a Cabinet Minister, and not good for Nunavut.

  7. Posted by Gordon Kukkuvak on

    We don’t have security here in Kugaaruk are you sure they spend on security maybe or maybe not

  8. Posted by Stable genius on

    Maybe the GN shouldn’t have contracted out the security to a private company? The company that now has the contract for security won’t even hire locals and get their guys to come up north and put them in hotels because they don’t have their own places to stay in Nunavut.

    When I worked at the health centre I have seen many people drop off resumes to the security because they always have a job opening and yet no Inuit are ever hired and its always just the same 3 white people and 1 goes back home for breaks while the other 2 stay. I’m sure it would’ve been cheaper to have the security work under GN because they wouldn’t have to spend close to 3M to a private contractor.

  9. Posted by Kitikmeotaq on

    We have local people doing security at our Health Centre, I feel safer when they are there as there are so many people with Mental Health problems.
    And am glad there are jobs for our young people as a result of placing security in our Health Centres.
    It is appalling to know that Southerners are hired for these positions before locals,,, are we not in Nunavut?!!!

    • Posted by local people on

      Many times local people are hired to fill positions but many of those hired do not show up for work. People always complain about others from south hired instead of local people. Well no wonder. Many local hires (who can do the job) just can’t, for many reasons, go to work 5 days a week. The local stores, for example, are always short staffed because people can not show up for work. How can you run a business like that? No wonder they hire people from the south because they need workers that will show up and do the job. I am sure local business and the GN would prefer to hire local. But local people (not all, but many) just are not reliable workers. This has to change if NUnavut is every going to be the Territory that we all want to see succeed and become a place we can all can be proud of.

      • Posted by Kitikmeotaq on

        Why don’t I make it clearer what you are saying, because I -hear -about -this -all-the-time!!!
        Inuit are always too lazy to work, cant hold 9 to 5 jobs blah, blah, blah, and blah.
        I just hope you are not an employment Officer because there are many young people who are willing to work. They just have to be encouraged to look for work/courses, we need our employment officers (those that find work for locals etc). they should be looking harder for anyone to work, so what if you go on local radio a number of times, get the information out to the people with vigour, tell everyone and anyone to pass it on.
        And once someone applies for a course or employment -you be the professional and make sure the process goes through efficiently and quickly !

        • Posted by 10 years a slave on

          Dear Kitikmeotaq, there is a lot of truth to the statement by ‘local people’. You can react and get mad and say whatever, but it doesn’t change reality.

        • Posted by Poverty, Not Ethnicity on

          Disconnected from reality much?

          Hiring in Nunavut is incredibly difficult – the lack of trained personnel, and the huge effect that substance and domestic issues has on reliability. It has been that way for years and years. It is a poverty thing, not any sort of an ethnic thing.

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