Julie Green: Update on Health Human Resources

Ministers' Statements and Speeches

Yellowknife — March 1, 2022

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Mr. Speaker, I want to update Members on steps being taken to address the recruitment and retention of health and social services staff in the Northwest Territories. Members created a mandate priority to increase the number of resident health care professionals by at least 20 percent during the 19th Legislative Assembly. The COVID-19 pandemic has further highlighted the need for health and social services workers across Canada and within the Northwest Territories.

Staff in the Department of Health and Social Services and the Health and Social Services Authorities have been working hard to respond to the challenge of recruiting health care professionals and to retain them at health facilities across the NWT. We have talked with front line staff and the Union of Northern Workers as well as reviewing efforts undertaken in other jurisdictions. We want to be competitive within Canada and a destination of choice for health care professionals.

Mr. Speaker, to guide this work over the next three years, we are finalizing the 2021-2024 Health and Social Services Human Resources Plan which will be released in April.

Looking ahead, several of the plan’s initiatives are specifically designed to attract Indigenous and Northern residents to careers in Health and Social Services. Many of these initiatives will go live over the next few months, including a transition program to support new graduates moving into permanent positions within the health and social services system. We will also be launching a bursary program for Indigenous and Northern students who choose to pursue an education in health and social services.

Mr. Speaker, we are also developing job shadowing and observer guidelines, along with an updated NWT Health and Social Services Career Guide. These tools are designed to inspire students and youth to consider a career in health and social services. These new initiatives will complement outreach programs, such as take-your-kids-to-work events, and promotional activities through PracticeNWT.

In the meantime, we are aware of concerns about staff morale within the healthcare system and work is underway to address them. We understand that staff are our most valuable asset. Ensuring they feel engaged, valued, and supported to build a career within the NWT health and social services system is critical to us being able to provide sustainable services to residents.

Mr. Speaker, we are aware that the NWT is the only jurisdiction in Canada without a registered nurse recruitment bonus. There was a time when registered nurse salaries in the NWT were significantly higher than in most other Canadian jurisdictions, and this helped to attract staff. However, we are watching that gap narrow.

The Financial Management Board recently approved a Labour Market Supplement Policy to enhance our ability to recruit and retain positions identified as difficult to fill because of national shortages of skilled staff. The Department of Health and Social Services recently requested this policy provide a wage supplement for frontline registered nurse positions and medical laboratory technologists across the NWT.

Mr. Speaker, our intention was to provide recognition of existing staff within the system and to demonstrate the value of their continued retention, while also encouraging new staff to work for us.

According to the collective agreement, to apply the Labour Market Supplement Policy, the GNWT must first consult with the UNW on the terms being considered and unfortunately the approach proposed was not agreed to. While I am disappointed, I want the public and healthcare workers to know that we will continue to engage with the UNW on other ways to support the recruitment and retention of healthcare professionals.

Mr. Speaker, we are turning our attention to other efforts to address staff concerns. As part of an Employee Engagement Strategy, we are trying to understand why staff are leaving or changing positions within the organization. Exit Interviews and Staff Movement Surveys are being conducted with all staff who have left the organization, and with those who have transferred to pursue another opportunity within the system. Using the data received from these survey results, we have drafted an action plan to address immediate issues and concerns.

In addition, the Registered Nurses Association of the NWT and Nunavut is now conducting a survey of all nurses to better understand their concerns and solicit ideas for possible solutions to staffing issues.  A report will be submitted to the department and recommendations to address concerns related to retention and recruitment will be provided to the Health Authorities.

In line with this work, retention strategies that address staffing shortages have been prioritized, particularly within the Obstetrics unit at Stanton Territorial Hospital. The NTHSSA will be launching the Specialized Nursing Transition program that will help RNs to expand their scope of practice into areas of specialized nursing, with a focus on orientation, mentorship, competency development, and financial support to obtain their certificate in obstetrics nursing.  The long-term strategy for this initiative will be to expand the program to all areas of specialized nursing.  

Mr. Speaker, supporting and developing the health and social services workforce will help to ensure that residents of the Northwest Territories have access to top quality services and receive the best possible care.

In closing, I would like to thank the staff of the NWT health and social services system. I, along with the entire Health and Social Services leadership team, remain committed to making improvements that will lead to a better future for staff, clients, and residents throughout the territory.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.