With nationwide nursing shortages being a front and centre issue well before the Covid-19 pandemic, and employee morale issues being brought forward for years, the GNWT should have been on top of these issues years ago. Sadly, the usual path that governments take is to keep applying band-aids until a crisis forces their hand. This is not fair to workers, and this is not fair to the public they serve.
We know that staffing shortages are not just affecting healthcare in the NWT, and that this is a Canada-wide issue. However, the GNWT needs to stop using this as an excuse to not get working on creative solutions.
If this is a Canada-wide issue, then it is even more critical for the NWT to be more competitive. The GNWT’s failure to effectively implement recruitment and retention of qualified healthcare workers has left everyone feeling unsupported and unappreciated.
Being competitive means higher wages. It also means addressing the issues that cause people to turn down work despite financial incentives. The GNWT needs to build a reputation for being a positive work environment that respects it employees and makes working in the NWT more attractive than anywhere else.
The UNW is here for our workers, but it is not the Union’s job to run or manage the government. However, if the GNWT was willing to work together to find solutions, the Union and our members do have ideas.
The employer needs to listen to its workers and use the hands-on knowledge the workers have to assist management to come up with creative ways to support their needs.
One of the biggest issues we hear from our members is the lack of flexible childcare. Spaces for regular childcare are already hard to come by, and these are often not a viable option for healthcare staff who work shifts outside typical office hours.
Providing subsidized in-house childcare with hours that align with hospital shifts, would not only relieve a lot of pressure on healthcare workers with children; it would create well paying jobs for northern childcare workers while reducing the demand for regular childcare spaces.
Perhaps the government could hire more support staff in healthcare, such as nurses’ aides for non-medical support, and unit clerks for administrative assistance to medical staff. More Licenced Practical Nurses should be recruited, and these LPNs need to be used to their full scope of practice.
It would also be nice to see Aurora College offer and promote more entry level healthcare certificate and diploma training, so that more northern support staff could be trained in the healthcare workplace.
Making these courses available in the smaller communities is also an option. In addition to providing important support, these entry level positions and education might spark an interest in pursuing higher education or joining the nursing profession.
Over the past several months, the union has heard lots of talk and promises from our government in the media, but no meaningful actions. When challenged to provide details about what steps they will take to alleviate the strain on our healthcare workers, the response was more studies, more reviews, and plans for more plans.
No matter what, our members will continue to serve the public, but they are exhausted.
Now more than ever, we need the public to help our healthcare workers by doing their part to reduce the effects of Covid-19 on our healthcare system. We encourage all northerners to follow public health advice, get vaccinated if you are able, and put more pressure on our politicians to find real solutions to our staffing shortages.
Gayla Thunstrom, UNW President