Surgery postponed
Nursing shortage provokes drastic measure

Daniel MacIsaac
Northern News Services

INUVIK (Oct 29/99) - Ray Scott said the ongoing nursing shortage has really hit Inuvik hard.

Chief executive officer at Inuvik Regional Health and Social Services Board, Scott said that desperate times have called for desperate measures.

"We've basically shut down our operating room for the next two weeks," he said. "Of course we'll be performing emergency surgery, but it's the elective stuff that we'll be postponing."

Scott said it's the first time in his two-year stint at Inuvik Regional Hospital that such measures have been taken.

"Filling vacancies is the biggest problem," he said. "It's a world shortage, and we're very affected by it."

Scott said there are approximately 60 nurses currently working in the jurisdiction of the Inuvik Regional Health and Social Services Board. He added that with experts predicting the nurses crisis to peak around 2010, the prospects for short-term recovery do not look good.

To counter the problem, Scott said the board plans to spend part of the money recently allocated by the government to hiring three nursing-mentors.

"We'll be recruiting for that in the next few weeks," he said. "We haven't got down to the brass tacks of exactly what they'll be doing -- but the idea is for them to be available to help new nurses become oriented in a community, which will take the orientation-burden off of the nurses who are already there, and who are already overworked."

Asked what it feels like to be part of such an in-demand industry, hospital nurse Tina Norris said it doesn't feel good.

"Not at this point it doesn't," she said. "Right now if we're short-staffed, you feel you have to make up for it and pull up the slack -- and you become burnt out."

Norris said nurses have never felt insecure about being employable, though she said times have changed since when she graduated from nursing in Newfoundland in 1994, when there weren't many jobs at home and some her classmates left for the United States. Now, she said, there are jobs in Newfoundland, just as there are nursing jobs everywhere -- and that makes recruiting for the North even tougher.

"If there are jobs across Canada, you're probably not going to leave your area -- unless there are incentives."

Norris pointed to a medical monthly called Health Beat and described how the colourful ads enticing nurses to far-off lands like Saudi Arabia have continued to grow and fill more space over the last few years. She warned, however, that lures like signing bonuses don't always turn out to be as attractive as they first appear and that now settled in Inuvik, she's happy to stay.

Finally, Norris stressed that patient-care is the ultimate indicator of how the nursing shortage is affecting the system.

"If you're in nursing, you're in it for the patients," she said, "and the most important consideration is whether the patients are getting all that they should."