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Unfilled jobs prompt concern
At least seven positions are vacant across the Dehcho health authority

Shane Magee
Northern News Services
Published Thursday, January 15, 2015

On a Sunday morning last fall, a recently hired Dehcho Health and Social Services employee arrived in Fort Simpson.

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Catriona Molloy, left, and Donna Allen, the CEO of the Dehcho Health and Social Services Authority, attend a meeting on Jan. 7 in Fort Simpson. - Shane Magee/NNSL photo

By noon, she was back on a plane leaving the village.

"She left before she even started," said Connie McNab, the manager of Child Youth and

Family Services with the authority during a public meeting Jan. 7 in the village.

The meeting, held by the authority's public administrator Jim Antoine, in part heard about the difficulties that have been faced in attracting and keeping skilled healthcare workers in the region.

There are at least seven vacant positions - two social work positions in the village and another in Fort Liard - across the authority that has roughly 100 full-time staff.

It serves the communities of Fort Simpson, Fort Providence, Fort Liard, Trout Lake, Nahanni Butte, Wrigley, Hay River Reserve, Jean Marie River and Kakisa.

"It's always a concern (when you have vacancies) because when you're a small authority, it means services are being reduced," said CEO Donna Allen in an interview after the meeting.

It's an issue that the authority is addressing, but comes with being a Northern employer, she said.

Antoine is the public representative to the health authority, hearing reports on its activities at quarterly meetings as well as bringing issues patients and families have to administrators.

He suggested the authority can do more.

"We have to start looking at ways to keep people here longer," he said.

The average length for people to stick with a social work job in the North is two years, he said.

"Retention-wise, I don't know what else we can do," McNab said.

Often times, people will come with preconceived notions about the North, but when they arrive, their view changes she said.

In the case of the woman who left, she said she didn't like the idea of isolation.

McNab thought she'd be OK with it, as the woman was originally from northern Saskatchewan.

"I truly believe there will always be a challenge to recruit and retain," Allen said.

As an example during the meeting, Allen told Antoine that nurses have an expanded role in delivering healthcare in the North compared to what they may have known in the south.

She said that means they have to come with experience and be mentored.

Antoine said he understands the authority is trying to provide the best care it can, but also must hire people qualified for the work.

At several points through the meeting he mentioned how it would be good to hire more local people, especially those who speak the Dene Zhatie language for the long-term care home in the village where many of the residents are elders.

He gave an example about his own mother not knowing how to tell the nurses about an issue she was facing because of the language barrier.

"Overall, the Deh Cho, we do pretty well in employing people from the region," Allen said to Antoine.

According to a report presented at the meeting, the authority is projecting a $1.18 million deficit at the end of the fiscal year.

That's because the authority is mandated to carry out tasks that costs more than the funding the GNWT provides, Allen said.

Allen said the deficit is higher than expected because of relocation costs.

The health authority does cover some moving expenses for employees who are relocating.

Allen wasn't able to say how much of the deficit is tied to payments made for employees coming or going.

The financial report presented at the meeting states that so far no actual bills for those costs have been received, so the figures are estimates.

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