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MLA John Main is fed up with ’emergency only’ status at health centres

Arviat North-Whale Cove MLA John Main once again raised the issue of health centres being put on ’emergency only’ status and this time he was armed with figures provided by the Department of Health.

John Main, MLA for Arviat North-Whale Cove, is frustrated by health centres too frequently being limited to patients with emegencies only. photo courtesy of the legislative assembly

Between December 2018 and October 2019, there were a total 594.5 occasions when various health centres across Nunavut were limited to patients with emergencies only. Kugaaruk was the location where it happened most often — 73 times. Cambridge Bay and Taloyoak were next at 69 times each. Kugluktuk was at 54, indicating that the Kitikmeot region was most affected. Closures in these circumstances are not expected to last longer than 24 hours, according to the Department of Health.

Main said he doesn’t like the message that ’emergencies only’ sends to the public.

“It seems to be saying, ‘Keep getting more ill. I know you’re ill, but get more ill so you can be seen,'” he said to his colleagues in the legislative assembly on Tuesday. “Perhaps you have cancer or whatever — only if you become an emergency case we will see you. That is not right and it’s obvious that whoever has a problem should see that.”

Health Minister George Hickes admitted that this is an ongoing problem and not likely to abate in the near term due to low staff levels.

“To be frank, I don’t see it ending anytime soon with the competition that we have with other jurisdictions on our nurse recruitment,” Hickes stated. “That being said, in the last fiscal year and the current one we have hired over 200 indeterminate nurses, which to me I think is something to be very congratulatory of our nurse recruitment division and the efforts that they are working on.”

Hickes emphasized that it’s important to allow existing nurses to recover when they do switch to emergency only status.

“In a case where somebody is over-tired, and I’m sure we have all been there in different aspects of our lives, you are not running at peak efficiency if you are overly tired,” the health minister said. “We have to make sure that we are providing that care for our staff, not just for the community, to make sure that the nurses are capable of providing the health care that we expect.”

Main agreed.

“I’m sure that it is tiring for them and they can’t work at their peak when they are tired. That’s understandable,” he said.