After three years of trying to find a job at Whitehorse Hospital and receiving “nothing but a run-around,” 30-year-old nurse Janet Purnell is packing up her young family and moving to Saskatchewan.
“Five years from now, they’re going to be hurting,” she said at the hospital on Friday, reflecting on statistics that reveal Yukon nurses are the oldest in Canada and that most plan to retire within five years.
“And the nurses like myself, that they’ve turned away, I won’t be back in five years,” she said.
Moments before, Purnell delivered her resignation to the hospital’s lab, where the acute-care nurse has been working in a non-nursing job since last fall.
According to Yukon Medical Association representatives, the Yukon Registered Nurses Association and even members of the hospital’s board of directors, the shortage of doctors and nurses at the hospital has become a big problem.
The hospital’s chief executive Michael Aeberhardt and Health and Social Services Minister Brad Cathers have said otherwise — though both now refuse requests for interviews.
But Purnell’s experience as a nurse trying to find a job at the hospital has added a dark footnote to that situation: the hospital is doing a bad job recruiting new talent.
Before Purnell and her husband moved to Whitehorse from Edmonton in the spring of 2004, she e-mailed the hospital about jobs.
The hospital is not hiring, said a manager’s response.
They suggested “try again” in March, said Purnell.
“Right off the bat that surprised me, because where in Canada isn’t hiring nurses — not even casual?” she said.
She contacted the Health department and found a full-time, one-year contract in long-term care nursing at Macaulay Lodge and Copper Ridge Place.
The Yukon government paid a $3,000 relocation fee in return for a one-year commitment to the job.
Purnell moved to Whitehorse for that job, but still hoped for a nursing gig at the hospital.
During her contract she applied for a part-time nursing position she was interested in at the hospital.
She hoped to juggle the two jobs, she said.
While she got an interview she wasn’t offered the job.
“After that, they contacted me and told me to apply on a casual position at the hospital, that I could get full-time hours,” said Purnell. “I said, ‘No,’ I’m not doing casual; I’ve got a job at long-term care, they paid me $3,000; I owe them a year.”
The practice of letting the government pay for relocation then offering a job at the hospital — called “poaching” within the industry — is quite common in the Yukon, she said.
At the end of her contract, Purnell had a baby and went on maternity leave.
On and off during her leave, she continued to apply for nursing jobs at the hospital, she said.
In June 2006, she aggressively started seeking a full-time or even casual nursing job.
She wanted to begin working full-time again in September.
“I never heard back on any of the positions — they were all internal postings,” said Purnell.
She didn’t receive phone calls, but got impersonal form e-mails confirming her application had been received, she said.
By August — still without a job — Purnell called the hospital to see if there were any new positions open.
“They said they weren’t hiring then either, that they’d done well with their summer student recruiting and they weren’t hiring,” said Purnell. “All the nurses I talked to here were like, ‘Oh no, that’s crazy, that’s not true, call the manager directly.’”
She did, but the manager said the hospital would be using summer students because they didn’t require any training, she said.
Purnell was told her resume was being kept on file, but didn’t hear from the hospital.
Frustrated, she stopped applying and instead took a non-nursing job in the hospital’s lab.
The irony was not lost on her or others at the hospital.
Nurses often talked to her about working too many overtime hours and missing holiday time as a result of being short staffed, she said.
“They would say, ‘Oh we were short this shift, oh we were desperately phoning people at five o’clock in the morning to come in and cover shifts — and what the heck, there’s somebody down in the lab not even working as a nurse.’”
Several nurses have faced similar troubles with the hospital, she said.
One nurse applied starting in January 2006 and was only hired as a casual in October, she said.
And perhaps most strikingly, it appears the hospital’s administration is pushing different positions with different people.
Purnell’s husband worked with the husband of the former union representative at the hospital.
The woman met with the hospital’s management one morning last summer and was told they were trying to recruit nurses, she said.
Later that same day, however, management told Purnell the hospital was not hiring, she said.
“Two hours apart, we’re told two completely different things,” she said. “All the time they’re telling me, ‘Oh no, we’re not hiring,’ they’re telling the union that they’re not able to recruit, that they can’t find people for these positions.”
Purnell and her family are now moving to Saskatoon, where her husband will go to medical school and where she will work as a full-time, long-term care nurse, she said.
“They were offering me the job the second I called,” she said.
The province has made the move enticing by offering $5,000 for moving expenses, $5,000 for a year for medical workers who live outside major centres, and $5,000 for hard-to-recruit positions.
A nurse or doctor interested in Saskatchewan could “easily” be offered more than $15,000 to seal the deal, said Purnell.
Compared to hospitals that are actively recruiting elsewhere in Canada, Whitehorse is falling short, she said.
“Here, they don’t return phone calls.”
The hospital should concentrate on “actually recruiting, hiring,” she said.
“You can’t have enough people in a casual pool. There’s always people looking to work a couple of shifts here, a couple of shifts there.”
She noted that eight or nine nursing positions have suddenly been posted.
“You don’t suddenly have nine shortages, so this is stuff that has been sitting in the pool for a long time, and they’re finally hiring.”
It’s too little, too late for Purnell.
She and her family leave for Saskatchewan Thursday.