Staff fret as health authority cuts jobs

Board burdened by $59-million long-term deficit

By JANE GEORGE

As Nunavik’s Inuulitsivik health board tries to chop costs and reduce an accumulated deficit of $59 million, the board is still in disarray, with the departure of several doctors and a department head and staff who are increasingly worried about how the cuts will affect services.

The Inuulitsivik health board has 400 employees working at health and social services clinics in seven communities along Nunavik’s Hudson Bay coast, at a rehabilitation center in Inukjuak, and at the 25-bed Inuulitsivik hospital in Puvirnituq.

On March 24, Inuulitsivik employees first learned Inuulitsivik’s board of directors plans to:

* cut three jobs, including a psychologist, programming agent, and nurse educator;
* transfer another psychologist’s position to Youth Protection Services;
* cut five floating positions;
* cut second on-call nurses in Umiujaq and Ivujivik;
* cut extra interpreters in Salluit and Inukjuak;
* cut two nursing jobs at the Inuulitsivik hospital;
* cut 1.5 full-time jobs at the northern module in Montreal.

In June, the Inuulitsivik management called an “urgent” general meeting of all staff, and every community hooked up for the teleconference.

According to a staff member who participated in the meeting, administrators spoke briefly about how they needed to inform staff about what was going on — “to be clear and to the point.”

“They did not say too much other than Inuulitsivik has a $3 million dollar deficit [in its annual budget], and that a $1.2 million cut will be in this year’s budget and another million or so in next year’s budget. They did not tell us who and where they were cutting. They did not give any breakdown of where the deficit had accumulated.”

At the meeting, management pointed to two additional factors leading to the deficit: the operation of the Inuulitisivik hospital cafeteria and the midwife-run maternity services provided in Puvirnituq, Inukjuak and Salluit by the Inuulitsivik Maternity Unit.

This summer, Inuulitsivik Maternity unit celebrated its 20th anniversary to a growing list of accolades: a major conference in Vancouver of all major stakeholders involved in maternity care gave Brenda Epoo, a community midwife from Inukjuak, a standing ovation for her presentation on Nunavik’s midwifery program, less than one month after Nunavik’s model for birthing received national recognition for its contribution to aboriginal health care.

Meanwhile, as staff in the North wonder what the next round of cuts will bring, the Montreal-based administrative unit for Inuulitsivik is expanding.

One employee told Nunatsiaq News that he wonders what happened to the mandate of teaching Inuit on-the-job in the North.

He said the firing of some Inuit employed by Inuulitsivik who weren’t doing their jobs well now seems to be used to justify the idea that “Inuit can’t run anything.”

“There’s been some kind of turnover in opinion… that Inuit can’t take care of themselves. It’s really insulting and really awful,” he said.

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