Arviat nurse shortage discussed during call-in show with top doctor

Dr. Michael Patterson promises to look into issue; MLA says it’s been a problem for a “long, long time”

Nunavut’s chief public health officer, Dr. Michael Patterson, answered an hour of questions from residents of Arviat on a Dec. 21 community radio call-in show. (File photo)

By Jane George

Concern over access to health care in Arviat, where there is still an ongoing COVID-19 outbreak, surfaced Dec. 21 during a community radio call-in show with Nunavut’s chief public health officer Dr. Michael Patterson.

“How come there is only one nurse?” asked one caller, who didn’t not give a name.

Patterson did not seem to have details about staffing levels at the health centre, but said he would look into it.

To another caller, who also asked a similar question, Patterson promised, “I will ask about it and see what can be done.”

John Main, the MLA for Arviat North-Whale Cove, said he knows people are talking about the issue, but doesn’t know what the staffing levels are.

“It’s my understanding that people were saying there’s only one nurse in town,” he said.

“But whether that means there’s actually only one, or only one working at any given time? You can get calls during the night, responsibilities during the day.”

That said, he acknowledged this is a problem the health department has been struggling with for a “long, long time.”

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

Arviat has been hard hit by the pandemic. As of Dec. 22, 262 of its 3,000 residents have tested positive for the virus since an outbreak was detected there in November. One person has died. There are currently nine active COVID-19 cases in the community.

Nunatsiaq News asked Nunavut’s Department of Health how many nurses are working in Arviat, and what the community’s usual staffing numbers are, but didn’t receive a response before deadline.

Main said he’d hope the department would be “eager” to clarify staffing levels.

“They’re getting kinda trashed now on social media,” he said.

Arviat a priority for vaccination, Patterson says

Patterson also fielded questions about the Moderna vaccine – which received federal approval for emergency use on Dec. 23 – during the call-in show.

He has previously said he anticipates arrival of the vaccine in January.

Callers wanted to know whether they should get vaccinated if they have already had COVID-19, to which Patterson recommended “everybody over 18 get the vaccine,” including people who have recovered from the disease.

Callers also worried whether the current vaccines would work on the new strain recently detected in the U.K., which appears to be more transmissible.

“That’s something that the researchers in England are looking at right now,” Patterson said.

One caller mused about conspiracy theories, wondering if the vaccine contains microchips. The chief medical officer assured the caller this is not true.

Patterson also named Arviat the community with highest priority to get a vaccination clinic going, and that vaccinations would likely continue into the fall.

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(11) Comments:

  1. Posted by Health Woes on

    Health and it’s senior management have not done anything to help nurse retention or recruiting. With millions o federal dollars coming in mo new positions were added in 2020 and no contingencies have been made to ensure healthy staffing in the capital. communities would be even more neglected.
    The retention package announced years ago has never seen the light of day, a project long forgotten. Senior management cannot muster the brainpower needed to do this because it is no priority to them. It’s a red herring. How challenging is it to finish a 1-3 page document?
    They do the opposite of entice nurses. Throughout the pandemic senior management has treated nurses unfairly, canceling leave for all and telling them to not bother submitting it. The union was powerless. Meanwhile, doctors (who are all on highly inflated untendered contracts that they don’t want the public to know about) were told they can take leave and skip the isolation hubs. Many of them had long summer vacations while nurses burned out. In response, quite a few nurses quit for a break. The department then wasted more money hiring the same nurses back a few months later as casuals by paying their flights and entire move up again. Nurse managers have said if staff want a vacation then just quit. Only recently have they changed the policy and now nurses can leave and skip the hubs. so many quit they were forced to act. They ran understaffed for the majority of this pandemic because no one at health does anything about this problem. It is not surprising even the CPHO has no idea how communities are staffed, he and the rest of senior management only think about this issue when it hits the newspapers, then they make a bunch of promises to look into it and it goes away for a year. If a pandemic cannot force health to fix the problem then nothing will and it will remain a problem forever. MLAs like Main do not hold the government accountable on issues like this for more than a news cycle and are equally to blame for the even worse staffing levels in the communities.

    • Posted by okay on

      One of the best posts that I have seen on this site. Nurses have always been maltreated in Nunavut because they are easy targets. More money was spent on hotels in Winnipeg and Ottawa, on the greedy airlines, than in providing support for the overworked nurses. Even the announcement about the rollout out of the vaccines have shown disrespect for nurses. They were not listed first in the many statements. John, the Arviat MLA, is just waiting for his chance to be a minister, and the CPHO has never taken the advice from anyone but his own opinions. The premier did not plan, obviously.

  2. Posted by I Wouldn’t Do It on

    After watching how nurses are treated in in some of our remoter communities I wouldn’t be a Nunavut nurse if it was the last position in the country.

    There are no shortage of nursing positions in Canada, why would nurses come here if we are going to treat them like crap.

    We’re competing against the whole country. What are we doing to make ourselves a desirable location/employer?

  3. Posted by Casuals on

    The senior managers in Nunavut act like they don’t really need nurses. Long-term casual nurses are treated shabbily and alienated. The managers think they know what they are doing and get very prickly if experienced nurses kindly offer input into strategies that would be cheaper and work better, and they are especially annoyed if that nurse happens to be a casual! There are (or were, maybe all have left now) casual nurses who provided long-term service to Nunavut, even though they worked contracts and not indeterminate positions, and they have been tossed aside, or pushed out by work and living conditions that are intentionally made to be more difficult by new managers who are destroying what worked before, without introducing any actual improvements, and in many cases are using strategies that actively make things worse.

  4. Posted by Don’t blame the nurses… on

    Geez people need to stop blaming the nurses. Nurses work so hard and hardly get any support. We need to start pushing the GN for more support.

    If we want to blame anyone in the case of covid-19 blame those dumb-bums who decided they were too important to listen to the rules of isolation. Then those who decided they didn’t have to listen to the rules of isolation up in Nunavut. Blame them!!! Now people died.

    Ii. Nurses can be grumpy and bitchy but what would you do if you work so hard to have people come and for what? To have to be treated like anak by the people who pay you and the people you’re supposed to be helping.

    We should get over ourselves and start taking care of ourselves and get our Government to start giving us proper healthcare instead of understaffed health centres.

  5. Posted by Anon on

    I know a nurse who is being forced to leave Nunavut this week, because of intolerable bullying by management. This nurse wanted to be here, she did not need to be here. This bullying is chronic and goes unchecked

    • Posted by Bullied on

      I agree with you- all GN departments are run by bullies & racists that are out to serve their interests and the interests of their friends.
      I decided to leave when I realized that bullying was distracting me from my job- there are evil people there. Employee relations only serves to protect GN from being sued for subjecting people to psychological torture. I will not be recommending that my friends take up jobs with GN!

  6. Posted by Toonik’s Grandfather on

    Arviat don’t see it coming? We Inuit wanted to be treated like a royals and praised each other but treat the community support workers like they don’t matter.

  7. Posted by Sandy on

    Wow, all the comments so pro nurse treatment. What about the crap nurses that treat people like dirt. Not trusting parents, trying to force and intimidate. Cornering people in Iqaluit to do things against their will (that they have no legal right to enforce) before letting them return home. I have gone through the worst health care experiences in all my travels, in north baffin. Spent over 10 years there working and living, only learning to have a lawyer on standby when I have to do anything besides ask for tylenol.

    Even the dentists. Spoke directly to the the dental surgeon in churchill when they wanted to send my kid for a tooth removal. He told me that he doesnt even xray the kids, or consult the parents. just goes in and pulls teeth. Takes out healthy teeth as well so he wont have to see them back. Stright from the horses mouth. Needless to say I didnt answer the phone the night the plane wanted to leave.

    Northern nurses are entitled, power tripping, and a lot of times more unhealthy and inexperienced then the ones they try to help. My advice is to find a very long stick.

    Saying that they need more and better, I say most they do can be done over the phone. Even as bad as sending people to homes for checkup, and all they do is snoop around for no good. “It was for my job.” Useless. Been going on for ever

    • Posted by Crabby on

      The article was about staffing levels, not your anecdotal experiences. If there were more staff, or better enticements to come to Nunavut, maybe you’d have better Healthcare.
      It is my experience that Nunavummuit are generally the worst patients. It’s because of a combination of poorly educated people and historic mistrust. Look no further than the antivaxx comments in Nunavut for an example.
      People come in seeking narcotics and get angry when they get Tylenol and go right to Facebook (it’s funny they forget to mention they came in to feed an addiction) , people freak out when nurses explain the medical travel policy isn’t an all expenses paid trip for 4 family members to Ottawa, people are violent and hit nurses but no one is charged for assault, mental health’s front line is the ER nurse and not a psychologist so they deal with a lot of substance and child trauma that they are not trained for.
      If you have a complaint you can call the licensing body and it will be investigated. Nurses don’t have that luxury for horrid patients. Although they can’t reject you, they don’t have to be nice to you if you’re a jerk. Of course, there are always some bad nurses so bad experiences happen like anything, but working here after the third year bonus isn’t worth the headache for good ones. Maybe they should stay for the lovely weather and lifestyle perks?

      • Posted by Sandy on

        The licensing body that “investigates” is its own. Same as RCMP investigating complaints against themselves. Useless, and bias. Been there, done that.

        But thanks for the attempted advice

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