11 community health centers will close this summer

According to Nunavut’s Minister of Health, 11 of Nunavut’s 25 communities will have their health centers temporarily closed over the summer due to staffing shortages.

Igloolik, Whale Cove, Kimmirut, Chesterfield Inlet, Sanikiluaq, Pangnirtung, Grise Fiord, Kinngait, Gjoa Haven, Pond Inlet and Coral Harbor will all see closures this summer, Health Minister John Main told Nunatsiaq News.

“I understand the importance of health centers and I really regret that this has to happen,” Main told the legislature on Monday in response to a question about health center closures posed by Amittuq MP Joelie Kaernerk.

Some communities will be closed for weeks and others for days, Main said, adding that he is reluctant to be more specific because the length of closures can change.

There will still be staff at health centers during the closures, but they will only focus on emergencies and life-threatening situations, Main said.

During the shutdowns, some services will be unavailable or delayed, Main said.

The closures are due to shortages of nurses in communities, Main said. He added that the lack of nurses available to come to the communities and staff burnout are two of the main reasons for this shortage.

The lack of available health personnel is a problem being addressed not only in Nunavut, but across Canada, he added.

But the root of the challenge is that the GN is struggling to maintain the number of nurses needed for Nunavut’s growing communities, Main said, adding that health infrastructure is not growing alongside communities.

“It’s been a concern for quite a while,” Main said.

“It’s something we need to tackle as the Department of Health.”

For chronic health issues, such as getting prescriptions, Main recommended contacting health center staff before closing time. He added that otherwise these services will be delayed or will have to be performed virtually.

To mitigate the reduction in services, the GN is reinstating a program it ran last year where two paramedics are provided to communities with closures, Main said. He added that the GN will also provide virtual health services to communities.

Doctor visits to communities where health centers are closed will also still take place, Main said.

To try to limit the duration of the closures or avoid them altogether, the GN has set up a task force, Main said.

He added that one of the initiatives of this working group includes the reassignment of staff from one community to another.

In order to help, community health staff also delayed his discharge, he said.

The department also runs a program where staff working in a community during the summer can bring a friend or family member to travel with them, with the GN covering the cost of that person’s flight.

“We did what we could to avoid that,” he said.

The problem of health center closures is not new. In 2021, two health centers closed during the summer and eight suffered service cuts due to the shortage of nurses.

Communities whose health centers will be closing will be notified two weeks in advance, Main said.

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