A more than 40 per cent vacancy rate for community nurses across the territory is “very, very serious,” the Yukon’s Health minister says.
That number was cited during question period by Health and Social Services Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee in response to a question from Watson Lake MLA Patti McLeod of the Yukon Party. McLeod had asked how many communities have faced shortages like the one Carcross did.
As previously reported by the News, health centres in Carcross and Teslin moved to emergency services only for a period in February, and the Carcross Health Centre was open for emergency services only from June 13 to 22, while the Ross River Health Centre was closed between June 10 and 20, although emergency services were available to the community.
Despite the high vacancy rate, McPhee told reporters following question period that there are currently no closures of community health centres in the territory. She said the department is managing nursing services at community health centers on a daily basis.
“We’re struggling sometimes, but managing to make sure that the health centers are staffed,” she said.
McPhee said agency nursing is on the rise to fill the gaps.
A department spokesperson said by email the Yukon has 10 per cent agency nurses working in communities as of Oct. 25. The rate of agency nurses has peaked at 20 per cent over the last two years to fill critical needs in communities.
“For the most part, we’ve managed to staff and keep [health centres] open, because they’re such integral parts of communities, and we are doing that sometimes with agency nurses,” McPhee said.
“In some cases, regular appointments have been slowed down or moved, but the health centers have remained open.”
McPhee said the major barrier to recruiting and keeping nurses in the Yukon is the shortage of nursing staff in the world.
Annie Blake, NDP MLA for Vuntut Gwitchin, told reporters the high vacancy rate shows that nursing needs to be supported to keep nurses working in the territory.
“I think we’re at a critical time where we need to ensure that government is providing fair wages to nurses who are hired here in the territory,” she said.
“If nurses are leaving the territory, then that speaks volumes on, possibly, their work environment and the wages.”
Blake said it is important to recognize the skills, cultural competency and established relations of nurses who live in the territory.
“Those are very valuable to myself and anyone else that’s accessing medical care,” she said.
“I feel like with agency nurses, there’s a lot of effort that would need to be put in place to ensure that anyone that’s under an agency not in the territory, we have the same expectations of them.”
Yukon Party Leader Currie Dixon told reporters the vacancy rate is higher than his party had expected.
“That is significant and startling,” he said.
“But what is more concerning is that there appears to be a significant deterioration of the relationship between the minister and the nurses.”
Contact Dana Hatherly at firstname.lastname@example.org