Nurse shortage forces summertime closures, service cuts at 8 Nunavut health centres
More changes could come depending on staffing levels, Health Department says
Updated July 19 at 9:49 a.m.
Due to a shortage of nurses, two health centres in Nunavut will close completely during the summer while six will see reduced services with a shift toward a focus on emergencies.
“The COVID-19 pandemic and a nationwide shortage of health-care staff have made the recruitment of nurses into the territory very difficult,” Minister of Health Lorne Kusugak said in a news release his department issued Friday.
The centres in Grise Fiord and Resolute — the territory’s two smallest communities with populations of 140 and 218 — will close completely in mid-August, the Health Department stated in the release.
No end dates are listed for those temporary closures.
Taloyoak’s centre will close except for emergencies for two weeks between July 30 and Aug 13, while Sanikiluaq’s will experience the same change for almost a month, from July 26 to Aug 31.
In Kugaaruk, the health centre will be closed except for emergencies for two weeks between Aug. 1 and15, service at Clyde River’s will be reduced from Aug. 9 to 24 while Naujaat will see reduced services from Aug. 12 to 31.
Baker Lake’s health centre is currently closed except for emergency services and is expected to enter a state of reduced services on July 22, Danarae Sommerville, a spokesperson for the department, wrote in an email.
As of June 30, there were 163 vacant nursing positions. Sommerville said eight of these are due to someone acting in another role and six are on transfer assignments.
There are 39 vacant community health nurse positions, and 17 vacant nurse practitioner positions, Sommerville stated.
With the changes, the department is working to ensure Nunavummiut have access to the health services they need during this disruption, according to the release.
In communities with unavailable or limited health services, the department will use a combination of virtual health, fly-in clinics and paramedic services to support patients, the news release stated.
Calls to the health centres will be directed to virtual support services and some may be automatically forwarded to other communities.
Support staff will still be providing services filling prescriptions, but there could be delays in communities affected by staff shortages.
Virtual public health staff and paramedics will still be able to respond to the introduction of COVID-19 to a community if that happens and will provide testing and contact tracing if needed.
Paramedics and licensed practical nurses will still be available to give vaccines by appointment.
Service reductions and closures could change again based on staffing levels, the release said.
Bayshore Healthcare entered a muti-year contract to be the GN’s main provider of nurses and midwives in March of this year.
This partnership and hiring over the last few weeks allowed the Department of Health to avoid having to close more health centres during this summer, but some closures may be necessary if staffing levels change, the release stated.
With files from David Venn
Correction: This story has been updated to clarify who can administer vaccines.