Healthcare workers overworked, having leave requests denied

A shot of Stanton Territorial Hospital. (Photo by Bailey Moreton/MyTrueNorthNow.com.)
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Healthcare workers are complaining of being overworked and having leave denied, according to the Union of Northern Workers.

With staff levels low and demand for services high during the pandemic, workers are being spread thin, according to UNW spokesperson Adrienne Cartwright.

“We have been hearing from our members,” she said in an email. “They are feeling tired and overworked. Leave is being denied in some situations, and many have been working through breaks and putting in a lot of overtime. We are very concerned about their morale and wellbeing.”

Decisions about leave are made based on a number of different factors, Health and Social Services Authority spokesperson David Maguire said in an email.

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“Stanton has a leave policy that guides leave approvals based on a number of factors including seniority, whether a staff member had leave denied in the past, and the balance of other leave requests on that particular unit for the time period the leave was requested,” he said.

“Sometimes leave is denied due to operational demands, the reality of running a hospital requires minimum staffing contingents on units to ensure appropriate patient care and staff/patient ratios.”

Maguire added that the demands of an acute care hospital mean some people aren’t able to take their breaks when they’re scheduled, but said workers are encouraged to work out a flex schedule so they can take their break.

The GNWT’s health department has partnered with the Registered Nurses Association of the NWT and Nunavut to survey staff about issues impacting their morale.

“The Union would like to see the Employer come up with creative ways to deal with staffing shortages,” said Cartwright. “We don’t have all the answers, but engaging directly with staff to find out what their needs and concerns are should be a key part of any actions taken to address the issue.”

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This comes as the GNWT is having trouble keeping staffing levels up in the healthcare systems.

Some clinic services have had to be cut back during the Sahtu outbreak, with appointments in Yellowknife moving to virtual care.

Maguire said previously in an email that there’s a “risk that our internal system resources could become stressed.” 

“We are seeing staffing levels lower than ideal in different parts of the system and we are working hard to address this,” he said in an email.

The federal government has recently sent some staff to help manage the outbreak. Maguire says a field epidemiologist from the Public Health Agency of Canada is already in the NWT, and by the end of the week nine nurses will also have been sent to the territory.

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