The Yukon is experiencing a severe shortage of community nurses.
In the legislature on Monday, Health Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee revealed that the vacancy rate in community nursing is currently over 40 per cent. Typically, the vacancy rate would be about five per cent, she said.
McPhee divulged that number while taking questions from the Yukon Party on how many communities have seen health-care disrupted due to shortages in community nursing. The party pointed to the community health centre in Carcross, which saw services reduced to emergencies only for over a week in February.
Speaking to reporters, McPhee called the vacancy rate “very, very serious.” She said it applies to all of community nursing, not just in rural Yukon but also in Whitehorse.
“We’re working actively every day to make sure that the nurses get hired into those positions,” McPhee said.
“Right now, I get updates if there is going to be any closures and I don’t have any immediately. So we’re struggling sometimes, but managing to make sure that the health centres are staffed.”
Despite the shortage, the minister said community health centres have largely kept running, although regular appointments have been slowed down or moved in some cases.
“Back in the summer, we had some disruptions where I think there was one that was closed for one or two days. But for the most part, we’ve managed to staff and keep them open because they’re such integral parts of communities,” McPhee said.
McPhee said this has been achieved by using agency nurses and by moving nurses around. In terms of surgeries, she said there “have not been unnecessary delays.”
During question period, the Yukon Party said it had obtained a briefing note prepared for the minister for the spring session of the legislature.
That note says the community nursing branch was facing “critically low nursing levels, which is anticipated to result in some service disruptions at health centres in some communities.”
It also says, that “despite ongoing recruitment and retention efforts, there continues to be barriers to ensuring the Yukon has access to an adequate supply of nursing staff.”
When speaking to reporters, McPhee said the barrier is the “shortage of nursing staff in the world.”
“Truly, that’s the major barrier,” she said.
“And, we need to figure out a way in which we can — as I said — make Yukon the most desirable place so that young nurses, nurses who are changing careers, nurses who want to try something new … nurses who want to provide service in the Yukon communities, will all come here to do that.”