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Sahtu running out of nurses: former employee

Chris Hunsley
Northern News Services

Norman Wells (June 13/05) - The Sahtu is on the brink of a nursing crisis that could potentially lead to the temporary closure of one or more health centres in the region, according to a recently fired health authority employee.

NNSL Photo/Graphic

Glen Abernethy: uses casual nurses to keep health centres running.

"Come July and August they don't have the nurses to cover vacations," said Olive Noseworthy, who was fired as the Sahtu's manager of health services June 3.

"Right now it's not a crisis situation, but it will be if not handled properly."

As of June 20, only one nurse will be on the job in Norman Wells, a community of close to 900, leaving the health centre open only to emergency patients if more personnel are not hired, she said.

Fort Good Hope will experience the same problem come August if a requested leave is granted.

Tulita, which only has one nurse will be forced to close its doors when she leaves, according to Noseworthy.

She said she tried to arrange interviews and to hire other nurses, but was stopped by the Sahtu health and social services authority she worked for.

The same authority, she said, fired her because she was unable to fill those jobs.

No one with the Department of Health and Social Services would offer reasons for the dismissal.

A lack of nurses across the country has resulted in permanent positions in the region being staffed by short-term, casual employees, said Glen Abernethy, senior human resources consultant for the Financial Management Board Secretariat.

"We try to keep the health centres up and running so we bring casual nurses in," said Abernethy.

Temporary health care providers have the same skills and qualifications as permanent staff and provide the exact same service, he said.

As of March 31, 11 permanent nursing positions were established in the Sahtu.

By June 3, only four of those positions were filled, leaving seven casual employees to make up the difference.

"Those numbers change daily though," said Abernethy in regards to short-term nurses.

History unfolds

This is not a new issue in the Sahtu region.

Centres have been closed in the past because the nurses take time off, said Sahtu MLA Norman Yakeleya, who feels the GNWT has to provide better incentives and living arrangements in order to lure more nurses to the region.

"We need to beef up their benefits and provide more incentives," he said.

"Don't just nickel and dime them."