Paramedics called in to stabilise Nunavik’s health services | Polarjournal
(Photo: Ian Schofield)

For the 13,000 residents of Nunavik facing a healthcare shortage this summer, help has come — though not in the form of the military medics healthcare officials they asked for earlier this month. Instead, Québec’s health authorities have sent five paramedics to assist at clinics in seven of the 14 communities that make up the province’s Inuit region.

The announcement that the paramedics had arrived and would help out at clinics in the communities on Nunavik’s Hudson Bay coast for the rest of the summer was reported by Canadian news outlets last week, a day after it emerged that a 2 August request submitted by the Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services, a medical authority, to deploy military personnel to the region — as had been done in parts of southern Québec during the pandemic — had been turned down.

The temporary assistance is intended to help healthcare facilities in Nunavik to remain open during the summer while staff are on holiday. But while situation is most acute during summer months, when some community clinics, typically only staffed by a handful of nurses at most, are sometimes forced to stop providing services entirely, Nunavik — like many other communities throughout Canada — is facing long-term staffing shortages. The situation is particularly acute for remote areas in the North.

“In some of the smaller villages that have only two to four nurses, the briefest absence can require a complete reorganisation of activities in order to maintain services,” Kathleen Poulin, a spokeswoman for the Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services, said.

Fortunately, the small size of Nunavik’s communities means it will only take modest numbers of additional staff to make a noticeable improvement in the quality of healthcare services. Bringing them up to what nurses consider “fully staffed” will take considerably more effort, however. For example, the seven Hudson Bay communities where the paramedics will be working are served by 145 registered nurses. Some 40 of them are licensed to run what are known as expanded practices that provide services typically offered by doctors, such as stitching wounds and diagnosing illnesses. Another 40 of these types of nurses are needed in order for the communities to be fully served, reckons Hudson Bay Nurses and Healthcare Professionals Northern Union, a labour union.

The Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services is looking to recruit new permanent staff (see video above for a description of the work and what the province does to attract workers). In the meantime, it says it is having doctors perform some nursing tasks, while also seeking to hire retired healthcare workers temporarily.

Kevin McGwin, PolarJournal
Featured image: Chouch

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