Today the Government of the Northwest Territories (GNWT) announced new incentives and operational interventions designed to help recruit and retain health care professionals.
A global shortage of physicians, nurse practitioners, and nurses, that has been intensified by the COVID-19 pandemic, has created health care service reductions and closures in the NWT and across Canada. Since early 2022, the NWT Health and Social Services System has temporarily redeployed staff to critical service areas, and they have also increased employer requested overtime. It has also been necessary to use more locums, casuals, and agencies to cover staffing gaps.
Initiatives announced to help recruit and retain health care professionals include:
- Expanded Paramedic Use
Health authorities will expand skill mixes to include paramedics. This means that paramedics can now be contracted to provide acute care support to remote and isolated communities and assist health centres and Stanton Territorial Hospital during emergency visits, patient assessments and management.
- Friends and Family Travel Program
To help ensure coverage during difficult-to-staff periods, this program will offer all casual, term, and indeterminate front-line nurse practitioners, registered nurses, and physicians the opportunity to bring up to two loved ones to their northern place of employment during the holiday season. The program will cover the cost of travel to the NWT, to a maximum of $2,000 per employee who is scheduled to work for a minimum of five days between December 20, 2022, and January 4, 2023.
- Onboarding Specialists
Building relationships with new staff is critical to long term retention. In response to some of the challenges faced by new nurses when they relocate to the North, the GNWT is creating four new Onboarding Specialist positions to provide an in-depth orientation for all new staff.
- Referral Program
GNWT employees may be eligible to receive $1,000 if they refer a registered nurse or nurse practitioner, who is then hired by the GNWT to fill a hard-to-recruit, front-line indeterminate or term position. This program also applies to referrals of physicians who are contracted to fill a position.
An additional $1,000 will be paid if the new hire remains in their position for one year.
- Licensing Fees
To reduce the barriers that may prevent some locum physicians from accepting contracts in the NWT, the GNWT will expedite the licensing process for locum physicians so they can work sooner after being hired. The health care system will also reimburse the licensing fees paid by locums, upon completion of a contract with the Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authority.
- International Travel to/from NWT
The GNWT will pay the international travel costs for physicians, nurse practitioners, and registered nurses who are currently living abroad and wish to work in the NWT health system. To qualify they must be eligible and licensed to work in the NWT.
“Recruitment and retention of health care workers is complex and requires a dedicated and multifaceted approach. These measures aim to attract new staff in key areas and add options for more flexible staffing in the short-term, as part of our phased approach to stabilizing services. Ensuring more available staff will relieve the pressure now on the health care system. We will continue to engage directly with staff regularly to identify and understand their concerns and find practical solutions to ensure that NWT residents receive the quality health care they deserve.”
- Julie Green, Minister of Health and Social Services
"Health care staff play an important role in the NWT's workforce, and the territorial government remains committed to finding both short and long term solutions to support our dedicated health care professionals including increasing morale and reducing staffing shortages. The measures announced today enhance existing efforts to recruit, which in turn helps retention because staff can take leave and have more scheduling flexibility. We continue to work with all of our partners to develop and support solutions that will build a stronger health care system in the territory."
- Caroline Wawzonek, Minister of Finance
- The HSS System Human Resources Plan outlines medium-to long-term planning for recruitment and retention, such as increasing the capacity for Indigenous and northern populations to receive the training needed to become health care professionals. The measures announced today provide short-term solutions.
- All 2021 graduates from the Aurora College Nursing Program have been employed in the NWT, and employment offers were made to all 2022 graduates from the Aurora College Nursing Program.
- Premier Caroline Cochrane has said an increase to the national health transfer from the federal government is urgently needed to be able to attract professionals into a region of Canada which, by its geographical and socio-demographic nature, has had inherent, longstanding, challenges in securing a stable health care workforce.
- Due to the increasing cost of services, and an increasing volume of patients, based on projections from the Canadian Institute of Health Information (CIHI), the 2021 total health spending (public and private) per NWT resident was $20,365, which is over 2.5 times higher than the average cost per Canadian.
- Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Human Resources Plan 2021-2024
- What We Heard Nurse Retention and Recruitment Survey
For media requests, please contact:
Department of Health and Social Services
Government of the Northwest Territories