A temporary health centre closure in Grise Fiord in mid-August looks like it will be averted.

The Department of Health recently secured additional staff to prevent the drastic measure, according to Jennifer Berry, assistant deputy minister of health operations with the Government of Nunavut.

The GN had announced on July 16 that a shortage of nurses would cause the Grise Fiord and Resolute Bay health centres to shut down for a period in mid-August. The status in Resolute Bay still didn’t look positive as of July 28, Berry stated.

“At this time, we do not have a second CHN (community health nurse) confirmed for Resolute Bay come mid-August, she said. “In this community, it is not safe for the health centre to remain fully operational when there are less than two CHNs or nurse practitioners on site.”

She added that “the situation is fluid” and “recruitment efforts are ongoing.”

Health services available will continue to fluctuate depending on circumstance, according to Berry, who assured that all Nunavummiut will continue to have access to emergency services.

In Resolute Bay, where approximately 200 people live, Mayor Mark Amarualik didn’t return messages requesting comment.

Acting chief administrative officer Ian Dudla said although two nurses may not be available, “As far as I know, the health centre will remain open … the support staff will take requests, process requests and medevac services are on. I think the health centre will remain open … the only issue is the number of nurses working at the health centre, but any other services will remain available.”

In Grise Fiord, Mayor Meeka Kigutak downplayed concern over a temporary closure even before formal word came that the health centre will remain open.

“There’s nothing to be worried about,” said Kigutak, who works at the health centre as a community health representative. “We’re not in a panic mode or anything like that … we’re not worried at all about this issue here in our community. We’ve seen worse.”

Having the health centre open only for emergencies for Grise Fiord’s 130 residents became the norm during much of the COVID-19 pandemic, she noted.

The GN previously stated that any temporary health centre closures would be offset by online appointments, fly-in clinics and paramedic services. Calls to closed health centres would forwarded and acted upon.

P.J. Akeeagok, president of the Qikiqtani Inuit Association (QIA), which is responsible for programming and services for Inuit beneficiaries in Grise Fiord and Resolute Bay, acknowledged the staffing crunch but urged the Department of Health to find ways to keep the health centres operational.

“QIA recognizes the enormous stress the COVID-19 pandemic has placed on health-care staff across our region,” Akeeagok said. “It is critical these health centres remain open and for future nursing positions be filled with qualified Qikiqtani Inuit. There is a bright future for those who wish to join health care careers. We encourage Inuit from our region to pursue these careers and help their home communities.”

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