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Governments avoid health staff working at multiple facilities — what's the GNWT doing?

It’s not uncommon for health-care workers to be employed at more than one facility that serves some of society’s most vulnerable people.

That’s why, amid Covid-19, jurisdictions across Canada have recently moved to restrict health-care workers to one site in an effort to mitigate the risks posed by employees going to and from different facilities — from long-term care homes to emergency shelters — with the aim of halting the virus’ spread among susceptible demographics, including the elderly and individuals with underlying health issues.

Ontario, mirroring restrictions brought in by B.C. weeks earlier, issued an emergency order to limit care home staff to one facility last week.

Similar measures are set to take effect in Alberta on April 23.

But in the NWT, the territorial government has said little about what it’s doing to address the issue of staff working multiple jobs in the health field during Covid-19.

That’s concerning, says Yellowknife’s Lydia Bardak, a longtime community advocate.

In the capital, Bardak said there’s been a long history of shelter employees working for multiple agencies at different sites — largely because workers, often employed casually, are trying to pick up as many shifts as they can to make ends meet.

Bardak said that hasn't seem to have stopped amid the global pandemic.

Some shelter users have told her multiple employees are working at multiple sites — including the now-quarantined Sobering Centre and Day Shelter, the temporary GNWT-run day shelter at the Salvation Army and the Salvation Army’s permanent overnight shelter.

In emails sent on April 15 to both the GNWT and the NWT Disabilities Council — the latter operates the downtown Sobering Centre and Day Shelter — NNSL Media asked how health concerns raised by issues surrounding shared workers were being addressed.

As of Monday, those questions have gone unanswered.

Despite mutliple requests made by NNSL Media to the GNWT and the NWT Disabilities Council, nothing has been said how about how agencies are handling the health risk presented by workers employed at both shelters amid Covid-19. Other governments have moved to restrict healthcare workers to one facility to halt the virus' spread amid outbreaks among vulnerable populations.

There’s no word yet on whether employees working at both locations have been identified. If they have, neither the GNWT, nor the NWT Disabilities Council, has said how many employees are working at both sites; and the GNWT has not responded to a question about if and when the territory will introduce similar restrictions for health-care staff working multiple jobs.

A man who identified himself as an employee of the Sobering and Day Shelter, donning a face mask outside of the shelter, provided some clarity.

The man, who asked to remain anonymous, told NNSL Media some employees are working at both the 50 Street joint sobering centre and day shelter and the temporary shelter at the Salvation Army.

He named two people, adding “a couple others” are doing the same.

Bardak said shared workers across agencies have long acted as a convenience in the city.

“When you’re running a shelter on a shoestring budget, it’s nice to have some casuals who you can call in when somebody’s sick or unavailable,” said Bardak.

But now, in the midst of a crisis, safety must supersede convenience, she said.

“Today, we can’t be all about convenience. Today we have to be all about protecting the workers and the people who access the shelters,” said Bardak.

That means increased cooperation and communication between agencies in the city, she said.

“If 10 workers are shared between different agencies, let’s make sure these five get (enough hours at one site) and that these other five workers get (enough work at another site),” Bardak told NNSL Media.

Bardak said she’s noticed a lack of cohesiveness between agencies and the city.

She said now, more than ever, is the best time for agencies and service-providers to come together to coordinate efforts to serve the community’s most vulnerable in the face of Covid-19.

NNSL Media continues to await a reply from the GNWT and the NWT Disabilities Council.