The increase, suggested at a first ministers’ meeting, would help, but the Northwest Territories would need more, she told media
How much would it cost to make the health care system in the Northwest Territories comparable to systems in southern Canada? More than $32 million extra, according to Premier Caroline Cochrane.
Canada’s premiers gathered in Victoria this week for the Council of the Federation summit, and pressures on the country’s health systems were high on the agenda.
The premiers called on the federal government to increase the amount of provincial and territorial health care costs Ottawa covers through the Canada Health Transfer from 22% to 35% in a joint statement released Tuesday.
The Canada Health Transfer is the largest transfer payment the federal government makes to provinces and territories.
In the Northwest Territories, such an increase, as suggested by the premiers, would amount to an additional $32 million, Cochrane said at a news conference Wednesday.
“While this would help support our already struggling health care system, it does not fully address the gaps that currently exist – additional investments from Canada will be required,” she said.
Exactly how much additional money the Northwest Territories needs is hard to put into figures, especially in the context of the evolving COVID-19 pandemic, Cochrane said, but “we need more “.
Health and Social Services are regularly in deficit
The Ministry of Health and Social Services is regularly in deficit, the premier said.
“I hate to say it but I often call [Health and Social Services] the poor cousin because other departments are diligently trying to make sure they stay on budget, but how do you say no to health care? ” she says.
“As a firm, we all recognize that even if they have a budget, it will be exceeded.”
The territory estimates that this year more than $594 million, or nearly 29% of its budget, will be spent on health and social services. Almost $54 million is expected to come from the Canada Health Transfer.
In their argument for increased federal transfers for health care, Premiers refer to shortage of health personnela problem the Northwest Territories knows all too well.
This summer, a staffing shortage forced the Northwest Territories Health and Human Services Authority to reduced laboratory and diagnostic imaging services in Yellowknife and physician availability in Hay River. The health authority also blamed a staffing shortage on the suspension of childbirth services at Stanton Territorial Hospital last winter.
Staffing shortages are driving up healthcare costs, MP says
Lesa Semmler, MPP for Inuvik Twin Lakes, worked as a nurse and in other health care roles in the Northwest Territories for 17 years. She said ongoing health worker shortages are costing the territory even more.
“We have such a shortage of staff that the majority of staff are still working overtime…and that’s something that’s not budgeted for,” she said.
“In my experience in the past, you can’t budget for overtime, so it’s always just an added expense.”
Cochrane said the territory has long struggled to recruit medical professionals, despite attractive salaries and benefits.
The pandemic has made the situation worse, as southern jurisdictions have raised wages and benefits to attract more healthcare workers to their overburdened systems, eroding the NWT’s competitive position.
Cochrane said in response that the territorial government has pushed harder to recruit and retain health care workers, and that push is now showing results.
“Just in the past 30 days, we’ve seen an increase in the number of nurses coming into the Northwest Territories,” she said.
“It’s a start, but it’s something we’re going to have to focus on, probably over the next two years.”
Semmler said she hadn’t heard of the new nurses and wondered if they were permanent or locum.
“Because we’ve had a lot of locum nurses and that’s also an extra expense to the healthcare system: covering travel, per diems and all the other expenses that come with the plane and short-term nurses “, she said.
“We need to find a way to hire more nurses, and for the long term, because the health of the people of the Northwest Territories will only improve when our health professionals live here and know the people.
Semmler said the continued staff shortage isn’t the only strain on the NWT’s health care system. The territory faces many exceptional health expenses, ranging from medical evacuations and medical travel to out-of-territory long-term care and addictions treatment.
Related Northern World Stories:
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Finland: Elderly care in Finland needs a financial boost to meet Nordic standards (researcher, Yle News)
Greenland: Greenland to cut services due to staffing shortages in its healthcare system, Eye on the Arctic
Sweden: Fewer people with stroke in SwedenRadio Sweden
United States: Native Alaskan students get hands-on medical experience at a nursing campAlaska Public Media