The Teslin Health Centre has no nurse on duty once again this summer, prompting Teslin’s mayor to speak out about what he calls “unacceptable” closures of Yukon’s health centres eroding the well-being of communities.
“We’re lucky […] but it’s a bit of a chance every time we close a health centre,” Mayor Gord Curran told the News about the previous week-long closure in July.
“Nothing terrible happened but we dodged a bullet then.”
Close to half of the community health centres across the territory have temporarily closed in recent months due to staff shortages despite the territorial government’s efforts to get more much-needed health-care workers in the territory. Health centres have seen well over 100 days combined of closures and service reductions across six communities since May due to staffing issues.
Old Crow and Mayo health centres had also been closed while evacuation orders were in place, but have reopened since the orders were lifted and scaled down to alerts.
An Aug. 16 Facebook post by the Health and Social Services department indicates the Teslin Health Centre will be closed from Aug. 16 to 22 because no nurse is available.
Clients can still call to make appointments and arrange medical travel papers, per the post. Planned doctor clinics will go on. Emergency medical services is still available to support clients in Teslin and place additional staff as they become available.
The post advises people to call 911 in an emergency and 811 for non-emergency issues.
In July, the Village of Teslin and Teslin Tlingit Council wrote a joint letter to Health Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee, prompted by the July closure. The letter expressed concern about the loss of emergency and proactive services that come with not having a nurse in the community, Curran said. He maintains that position.
“It just backs things up and creates bigger issues,” he said.
Curran, who is past president of the Association of Yukon Communities, said the group raised concerns to the Yukon government last fall.
“We could see this coming,” he said.
The nursing shortage was a problem before the COVID-19 pandemic which, Curran said, exacerbated burnout among nurses.
As usual, the Health department is attributing the service reductions in the Yukon to health-care worker shortages affecting the rest of Canada and around the world.
“The health and well-being of our workforce is also a priority. Reducing services at health centres during staff shortages is one way we are preventing burnout among nurses in communities,” reads an email from communications analyst Ken Hegan.
“The Government of Yukon and health system partners acknowledge the intensity of the workforce crisis and are taking action to address it.”
Yukon emergency medical services (EMS) has staff stationed in Teslin, Hegan wrote.
“Like all organizations, EMS has limited resources, however in cases like this, EMS does its very best to support communities that are having an impact from a service reduction,” reads the email.
The Yukon government is working to get and keep health-care workers, Hegan noted. It is using “bold and innovative” solutions such as getting the health human resources steering committee launched in March to come up with a strategy.
Meanwhile, Curran is perplexed that there may be unemployed or underemployed nurses in the territory.
“I’m not sure how you can have unemployed nurses in a situation where you’re short of nurses, so that speaks to administrative hurdles that may be there,” he said.
Anecdotally, Curran recalled there has been a nurse in Teslin who couldn’t work at the local health centre for years, so they worked at the Whitehorse General Hospital.
“It just seems to speak to a general lack of solution finding so far so in the interim while [the government puts] in measures to increase recruitment and increase mobility,” he said.
Curran suggested the government take a look internally to see what obstacles exist when it comes to working in communities.
“We support our local nurses when they want to take vacation. We do think that’s important,” he said.
“But, in the meantime, administratively, they need to take a harder look at what the barriers are.”
Contact Dana Hatherly at [email protected]