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Labour Views: Emerging Carefully

Feb 28, 2022

The recent announcements about the lifting of covid-related restrictions are welcome news for many Northerners. Most of us have been looking forward to returning to “normal” and carrying on with our daily lives.

It is also a relief for our small businesses who have found the pandemic restrictions challenging. Fortunately, we have a strong public workforce that was able to work flexibly and continue earning good wages to spend in our communities.

For many of our healthcare workers, a return to normal does little to alleviate the stress and strain they are experiencing on the job. Healthcare in the NWT and the rest of Canada has suffered chronic underfunding and staff shortages since long before the pandemic.

While Covid-19 has put healthcare workers into a larger spotlight, a wave of public support doesn’t always translate to proper management of healthcare resources or adequate support for the workers who keep the system functioning.

Our healthcare system in the NWT is made of up many types of healthcare workers who all have important roles to play in keeping it afloat.

While media and the general public usually think of healthcare workers as doctors and nurses, our healthcare system also relies on clerical and administrative workers, medical lab technologists, mental health workers, and a variety of therapists and specialists that provide specific types of care.

Even when are talking about nurses, we must remember that this profession includes many different types of workers: registered nurses, licenced practical nurses, nurse practitioners, nursing assistants, and midwives. We have full time, part time, casual, and relief positions. They are on the front lines and behind the scenes. They offer hospital care, primary care, public health care, home care, and more.

If this sounds complicated, that’s because it is! Our healthcare system is comprised of many diverse and hardworking individuals who support each other and work together as a team. The system relies on them all and suffers when there are any shortages.

And all of these workers are tired, overworked, and burning out. Even before the pandemic caused widespread cancellations, unit shutdowns, and drastic changes to how healthcare workers provide care, our system was struggling under the weight of staff shortages and turnover.

We know it’s been a long two years, and people are anxious to get back to “normal”. But we must approach the easing of restrictions with caution.

As of writing this, the NWT still has several hundred reported active covid-19 cases. And while most people who contract the latest variant of the virus are experiencing mild symptoms, we are still seeing severe cases and deaths. Our vaccination rate has plateaued at 81%.

We owe it to all our healthcare workers to stay vigilant and maintain healthy habits. Stay home when you’re sick, get vaccinated if you’re able, and do your part to reduce unnecessary strain on our healthcare system and continue to protect those who are most vulnerable.

We also encourage you to speak to your MLA in support of all our healthcare workers. With the Legislative Assembly currently in session, the UNW hopes to hear some fresh and creative ideas for retaining the great healthcare workers we already have and recruiting even more.

Our government can’t keep sitting on its hands and hope that announcing the end of the pandemic will fix our problems. With our whole country continuing to experience a national healthcare worker shortage that began long before Covid, it’s more important than ever for the NWT to become the employer of choice, and to be exceptionally competitive in attracting and keeping healthcare staff.

We need our government to lobby their federal counterparts for more funding and a national strategy. We need to make sure that Ottawa understands the complex needs and unique challenges for healthcare workers in the North. But we also need “made in the NWT” solutions that address our immediate needs.

In Solidarity,
Gayla Thunstrom, UNW President