Amid an acute global shortage of nurses, the Government of Nunavut has released the backbone of its five-year plan to recruit and retain more of the healthcare professionals.
Primary among the territorial government’s goals is to train more made-in-Nunavut nurses and to make terms more appealing to attract nurses locally and from other jurisdictions, such as through “competitive” compensation.
Other objectives include creating a nursing residency program; examining human resource practices, policies and resources; offering flexible work arrangements; and achieving a representative Inuit nursing workforce in the GN, a goal that the territorial has failed to achieve across its workforce since division from the Northwest Territories in 1999. The GN’s Inuit workforce has held steady at close to 50 per cent, far from the 85 per cent target.
The Department of Health also intends to “assess the appropriateness of existing models of care, nursing roles, and nurse and nurse practitioner staffing levels to meet current and forecasted community population health needs: population size, health status and service delivery.”
The GN’s strategy is based on five “pillars”: workforce planning and evaluation, recruitment, professional development, professional practice environment and leadership.
“Each pillar is further developed to include initiatives and actions designed to recruit and train Inuit candidates for careers in nursing and other public health professions, implement a nurse residency program, create flexible work arrangements and support and develop nursing leadership,” the Department of Health stated.
The strategy was developed in consultation with Nunavut nurses and nurse practitioners, among other “key” groups, according to the GN.
Denise Bowen, executive director of the Registered Nurses Association of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, said she couldn’t provide comment on the topic prior to press deadline.
The government’s hardship in filling a significant portion of the 300 nursing positions across the territory has been evident through various community health centres moving to temporary “emergency only” status over the past few years. In addition, the Department of Health warned of health centre closures in several communities last summer, but that was averted when paramedics were pressed into service. As well, agency nurses were brought in through Bayshore Medical Personnel, a company that has supplied many temporary nurses to the territory.
Canada is expected to endure a shortage of 60,000 registered nurses in 2022 while the global shortfall is a staggering 10 million nurses, according to the Department of Health. This has been made worse by the Covid-19 pandemic, which has resulted in a higher rate of resignations from those in the profession.
Now health minister, John Main spoke of the often desperate state of staffing nurses while reflecting in the legislative assembly on Sept. 16 on his term as Arviat North-Whale Cove MLA.
“There is a struggle by the Department of Health to hire sufficient nurses in Nunavut. When you have your constituents and they’re sick, when you discuss their concerns and feelings, ouch! It is painful,” Main said at the time.
About a week earlier, then-Netsilik MLA Emiliano Qirngnuq addressed Nunavut’s shortage of nurses.
“I do recognize that there are huge pressures on the nursing profession across Canada, and I do understand that the Government of Nunavut has struggled for several years to fill nursing positions across our territory. However, it seems that the situation is getting worse,” Qirngnuq said. “Those staff who are working — often late hours and double shifts — are easily overworked and burned out.”
Then Human Resources Minister David Akeeagok replied, “There is a crisis across Canada and our wages need to be at par or better in order to attract our nurses. That work is underway.”
He also noted that the collective agreement with the Nunavut Employees Union, which affects healthcare staff, hadn’t been settled, and that remains true today. That agreement needs to be resolved to make headway on improved compensation, Akeeagok added at the time.