Operating room nurses decry 'unsustainable' conditions at Stanton Territorial Hospital

·2 min read
Nurses working in the operating rooms at Stanton Territorial Hospital decried the lack of resources in a letter addressed to the health minister and the Registered Nurses Association of the NWT & Nunavut, which was sent Aug. 25. (Katherine Barton/CBC - image credit)
Nurses working in the operating rooms at Stanton Territorial Hospital decried the lack of resources in a letter addressed to the health minister and the Registered Nurses Association of the NWT & Nunavut, which was sent Aug. 25. (Katherine Barton/CBC - image credit)

Nurses in the Northwest Territories are again calling for solutions to a staffing crisis that their union claims is creating unsustainable working conditions.

In a letter to Health Minister Julie Green and the Registered Nurses Association of the NWT & Nunavut, nurses working in the operating rooms at Stanton Territorial Hospital decried the lack of resources, according to Tina Drew, president of Union of Northern Workers Local 11.

Drew said, the letter was sent on Aug. 25, one week after the territory's health department announced new initiatives to fill health-care staffing gaps and hire new workers.

"Yes, we need bodies in the door, but if the people who worked here were happy, we'd be recruiting," Drew said.

Operating rooms at Stanton Territorial Hospital are staffed with fewer than half of the nurses that are required, according to a news release issued by the union.

Drew said the new health ministry's initiatives don't go far enough.

Hospital management and staff are working hard, but Gayla Thunstrom, president of the Union of Northern Workers, noted that a lack of "meaningful engagement" from senior territorial government officials is compounding the problem.

"We have an employer who claims it listens to its workers, but it continues to blindside our members and the union with media announcements and policies, without consultation or even advance notification," Thunstrom said in the union's statement.

Drew said she was unable to speak to these comments, and Thunstrom was unavailable for an interview with CBC News prior to publication.

The union recognized the national shortage of health-care workers, saying it has been "warning" the territorial government about an impending health-care crisis for years.

Part-time positions to bring flexibility, Drew says

Drew suggested more part-time positions would fill operating room shifts and give nurses a better work-life balance.

"Let's get creative and bring some flexibility to working hours," she said.

"People value their time off and if that was the only thing we got out of this... you would find more nurses coming to the North and more nurses staying at Stanton [Territorial Hospital]."

Drew also called on compensation for the nurses who are working despite severe staffing shortages and the scarcity of resources.

The union said it would continue to press the health department.

The N.W.T. department of finance handles relations between the union and the territorial government.

The department of health directed CBC News to the department of finance for comment, but it did not respond prior to publication.

The N.W.T. Health and Social Services Authority announced earlier this month that services at Stanton Territorial Hospital's operating room, first introduced in July, would extend through to Jan. 3, 2023.