The union representing Stanton Territorial Hospital’s nurses is unsure how many of its members were affected by a recent outbreak at the facility.

“The employer has not provided us with this information,” said Union of Northern Workers President Gayla Thunstrom when asked how many workers had been infected or exposed to a known infection.

The Office of the Chief Public Health Officer (OCPHO) announced on Jan. 11 that community transmission had been detected at the facility.

In a statement addressing the outbreak on Jan. 13, Thunstrom said the GNWT had shown “[a] failure to effectively recruit and retain qualified healthcare professionals” throughout the pandemic. “This has been compounded by poor management of the precious resources we do still have,” she said.

During a press conference on Dec. 1, NWT Health and Social Services Authority CEO Kim Riles said Stanton was operating at a baseline of 22-per-cent vacancy for nursing positions, due to a combination of resignations, retirements, and vacations. Between June and October of last year, a recruitment drive, assisted by an external hiring agency, yielded just four new hires.

In her statement, Thunstrom said the territory could be more competitive in recruiting and retaining qualified workers, but that this would require “systemic change and producing actual plans for the short term, medium term, and long term.”

Thunstrom elaborated in an email by saying “We believe that all healthcare and frontline workers should be eligible for an equitable compensation premium added to their hourly wage for the duration of COVID.”

She said access to childcare has also been a persistent problem for staff: “The employer could have looked at creative solutions here a lot earlier, but clearly it is not too late,” she said.

“Unless we see some immediate and concrete action from the GNWT, the Union fears it’s only a matter of time before we see more reductions in services, units merging or shutting down,” Thunstrom’s statement read.

She could not say which services or departments were most vulnerable to being shut down but added, “It would not surprise us to see more disruptions to non-emergency services in the coming days.”

Thunstrom estimates about 420 union members currently work at Stanton but says information from the GNWT on the number of workers is “difficult to break down accurately” and usually doesn’t reach the Union until two months after it happens.

In her statement, Thunstrom encouraged residents to support the territory’s healthcare workers by writing to their representatives in the Legislative Assembly or local news outlets.

A spokesperson for the GNWT did not respond to a request for comment in time for publication.

A previous version of this story stated that “information from the GNWT on workplace infections is ‘difficult to break down accurately’ and usually doesn’t reach the Union until two months after it happens.” The information was actually related to the number of Union of Northern Workers members employed at Stanton.

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