Operating room nurses denounce ‘unsustainable’ conditions at Stanton Territorial Hospital

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

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

Drew said the letter was sent Aug. 25, a week after the territory’s health department announced new initiatives to fill health care workforce gaps and hire new workers.

“Yeah, we need bodies out the door, but if the people working here were happy, we would recruit,” Drew said.

Operating rooms at Stanton Territorial Hospital are staffed with less than half the nurses needed, according to a press release issued by the union.

Drew said the initiatives of the new Department of Health do not go far enough.

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

“We have an employer who claims to listen to its workers, yet it continues to blind our members and the union with media announcements and policies, without consultation or even prior notification,” Thunstrom said in the union’s statement.

Drew said she was unable to comment on those comments and Thunstrom was unavailable for an interview with CBC News prior to publication.

The union acknowledged the nationwide shortage of health care workers, but said it had been “warning” the territorial government of a looming health care crisis for years.

Part-time positions to provide flexibility, says Drew

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

“Let’s be 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 it…you’d find more nurses coming up North and more nurses staying at Stanton [Territorial Hospital].”

Drew also called for compensation for nurses who work despite severe staffing shortages and scarce resources.

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

The Northwest Territories 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 before publication.

The Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authority announced earlier this month that operating room services at Stanton Territorial Hospital, first presented in Julywould run until January 3, 2023.


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