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OBS will remain open: minister

Nursing retention bonuses back on the table

Chris Puglia
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Aug 28/02) - Closing the 15 bed obstetrics unit at Stanton Territorial Hospital is not an option.

That was the message from GNWT minister of Health Michael Miltenberger.

"It's absolutely essential we have an open and functioning obstetrics unit. In my mind it (closing) is not an option," Miltenberger told Yellowknifer Friday afternoon.

"I will be working with the department and the authority (Stanton Territorial Health Authority) to make sure we provide the services necessary."

At the heart of the issue is recruiting and retention of frontline staff at the hospital. Staffing shortages have already resulted in the closure of the four bed Intensive Care Unit, which Miltenberger said they are working on opening by December.

News that obstetrics may close came last week following an announcement that the hospital was losing more staff.

The series of events is getting government attention and Miltenberger says they are working on solutions.

"We're looking at a number of key issues. One of them is recruitment and retention," said Miltenberger. "The bottom line issue is services to the people of the North and we'll continue to provide these."

One of main problems the hospital has had in recruiting in the North was the discontinuation of recruitment and retention bonuses on March 31, 2002.

The payments were like signing bonuses and paid to nursing staff as incentives.

Dennis Cleaver, Stanton CEO, said it was hard to tell what impact losing the bonuses may have had on staffing.

"I have heard from a number of staff who indicated it would be preferable to continue with the paying of retention bonuses. Certainly nurses that express interest in coming to the north are asking about that (the bonuses).

"It's hard to say if nurses are deciding not to come based on that," he said.

Bronwyn Watters, director of policy and legislation for the GNWT, said in total $3 million was budgeted for the recruitment and retention packages.

Originally the packages were offered for two years and then extended for a third.

The Temporary Nursing Market Supplement, as it was called, was a negotiated benefit with the union. Watters said it was cancelled for a number of reasons.

Miltenberger said health care funding is needed for more than just attracting staff. It is required for training and keeping staff as well.

"The bottom line issue is there are not enough nurses. There were some very bad planning decisions made 10 to 15 years ago," he said.