Hay River healthy authority struggling to attract nurses

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It’s apparently getting more challenging to attract nurses to town.

There’s a shortage of nurses in Hay River, including at the Hay River Regional Health Centre. NNSL file photo

That is the opinion of Leanne Clouthier, a human resources officer with the Hay River Health and Social Services Authority.

Speaking on Nov. 1 at a public meeting between authority officials and Mike Maher, the organization’s public administrator, Clouthier recounted the dispiriting results of a recent trip to a trade show in Edmonton.

“We actually had people walk away from us as soon as they saw it was the Northwest Territories,” she said.

And that’s even though the salaries for nurses in Hay River are some of the highest in Canada, and there are “amazing” benefits and pension plan, she said. “And they don’t want it. So that’s going to be a big struggle for us.”

Clouthier said some of the nurses believe the NWT is isolated.

“Even though Hay River is not an isolated community, at all,” she said. “We pointed out on a map and showed them we are just north of the Alberta border. We’re on the highway system.”

Despite that, Clothier said some nurses were not going to consider the NWT, as though it was some kind of no man’s land.

“We were up against recruiters from right across Canada who were also having trouble recruiting nurses, as well as recruiters from the U.S. who were actually getting more notice than we were,” she said. “They’re offering signing bonuses. They’re offering travel and things like that. That was the key thing.”

Clouthier noted that representatives of the authority don’t typically attend a lot of job fairs, but she and an authority manager went to the health and nursing fair in Edmonton in September.

There, a few hundred potential employees passed through the job fair.

“The biggest thing we noticed – and we kind of were seeing it anecdotally and hearing from people – there seems to be a change in what registered nurses are looking for,” said Clouthier, noting they don’t care necessarily about the money, benefits or the pension. “They want work-life balance and they prefer locum. So people were only willing to come for a few weeks or a few months.”

However, she did see a lot of licensed practical nurses and did collect resumes.

“The RN piece was not as successful as we were hoping,” she said. “We’re seeing a pretty massive shift in the people that are willing to relocate up here.”

Clouthier noted there is a significant shortage of registered nurses in Hay River.

“But we are recruiting all the time and actually had some recent interviews that we’re hopeful will turn into offers,” she said.

Clouthier also noted that some jurisdictions are having layoffs.

“So we’re going to go after their nurses,” she said. “That’s really the big one right now.”

Maher noted it is a challenge everywhere to hire RNs.

“We’re going to have to be a lot more creative, I think, in the territories to keep those positions,” he said.

One of the ongoing issues in Hay River is a shortage of housing.

“People are having an issue finding a place to live if they do relocate to Hay River,” said Clouthier.

Erin Griffiths, the CEO of the health authority, noted some staff members even share a house.

Maher said the authority will bring up the housing shortage with the Town of Hay River at their next quarterly meeting.