Nurses migrating south
National nurse shortage affects North

Dane Gibson
Northern News Services

NNSL (May 19/99) - To avoid an exodus of nurses to the south, GNWT is spending $3 million to keep the shrinking number of health care professionals in the North.

Last November, the Department of Health and Social Services announced $1.9 million would be used for a health care employee retention and recruitment strategy. Last month, another $1.5 million was allocated to the cause.

"We want to introduce some kind of compensation package to send a message to existing staff that we value them, and we also want to work towards recruiting new staff and retraining," said Chris Keeley, deputy minister for health and social services.

"Obviously, the fact that we've committed this money is a recognition that we have to be competitive in the market and make our employees feel they're being rewarded for the work they're doing," Keely said.

The Canadian Nurses Association released a paper in 1998, called The Quiet Crisis in Health Care, that advised there are not enough young nurses and not enough people entering the nursing profession.

It projected that at current rates, population growth and extra need generated by an aging population will cause a shortage of 113,000 nurses nationally by 2010.

NWT Nursing Association president, Linda Heimbach, said the figure is especially concerning to them because trained health care professionals have more choices than ever before.

"What that means is if there's a position open in Calgary then a newly graduated nurse will more likely choose that over a Northern community," Heimbach said.

She said the relationship between health and social services and the nurses' association has never been better, which is why she's confident, together, they'll make headway.

Mary-Ellen Hoyles is acting director of patient care services at Stanton Regional Hospital. She's been a nurse at Stanton for 21 years.

"Traditionally, the turnover rate of nursing staff here in Stanton has been high but in the past five years, things tightened up in the South and we had a stable nursing population," Hoyles said.

"In the last year, that has changed. We've seen a lot of movement because nurses are in the position of being able to choose where they want to go. We're now in the position of looking at many options to recruit and to make it attractive to work in the North."

She said the Aurora College nursing program provides a talented pool of recruits, and the homegrown professionals are an important resource to help stem the flow of nurses heading south.

"Many or most of the graduates from the Aurora program are Northern and have a vested interest in staying in the North," Hoyles said.

She said that, along with the Recruitment and Retention Strategy, will have a positive impact on the future quality of health care in the North.

She said everyone, from federal and provincial governments to hospital administrators, are working to resolve the nursing shortage problem.

"The key is to continue to create an environment where we can deliver top quality care to our clients. That's what we're all concerned about," Hoyles said.