At the beginning of October, a move is set to begin into the new health centre, but a warning has been sounded that the facility may not be getting enough new staff members.
According to Al Woods, the CEO of the Hay River Health and Social Services Authority, his organization and the Department of Health and Social Services agreed on the number of extra staff that would be required during meetings in March and April.
“After about four meetings and a lot of haggling, we boiled it down to 21 staff, and they agreed on it,” he told town council on Aug. 24.
However, that number has since been reduced by 10 workers.
“We’re not sure if we can operate with 11 (extra workers), but we can’t really tell until we get into the new building,” Woods said.
Among the positions that he said were agreed upon and then unapproved were half-positions for an additional infection control nurse, an additional telehealth worker and a maintenance person. The reductions also involved security positions, another public health nurse, a homecare worker and a receptionist.
There was also a half position for a speech pathologist for children aged up to five years. That position doesn’t currently exist.
Some positions were also not ultimately approved in housekeeping and dietary care.
In comments to The Hub, Woods said the unapproved positions are more in the area of support services.
“So direct patient care should not be affected,” he said. “But how we manage the flow of people and those kinds of things is really going to take some trial and error on our part to try and make it as efficient as we can.”
A couple of critical areas have to be figured out, especially the medical clinic, Woods noted. “It’s much bigger now and it’s combined with the specialists’ clinic.”
The CEO doesn’t know who decided on the reduction after the talks with the department.
“I’m not sure, because from there it goes up to the directorate at the Department of Health, which is the deputy minister and the two assistant deputy ministers,” he said. “Then it goes over to the Financial Management Board to get approval for the funding. So between those two, it was dropped from the 21 down to 11.”
Woods said it is not a good way to start the new health centre.
“It’s not the ideal situation, for sure,” he said, adding he understands the GNWT is very strapped for funding.
“So when we got to the 21, I felt, ‘OK, that’s a very acceptable number. We can do it with 21,'” he said. “So now we have to go back and figure out, ‘OK. How are we going to do it?'”
Including the 11 approved positions, the new health centre will have 113 workers.
Attempts to obtain an explanation of the process from the Department of Health and Social Services were unsuccessful as of late last week.
Woods said the department asked the health authority to figure out what staffing was needed as a result of the increase in footprint only, and not consider any growth in services.
The CEO said the health authority did get all the nursing positions it requested for the emergency department.
Woods’ comments to town council were met with concern from the community representatives.
“I just think that this is a very important thing for us to know at this table and for the rest of the community to know,” said deputy mayor Donna Lee Jungkind. “That’s important.”
Coun. Roger Candow asked Woods if he will be able to run the new health centre with the lower number of staff.
“We’re not sure, to be honest with you,” Woods replied. “We need to get in there and actually do some work flows.”
The CEO said the health authority may discover it has to hire more staff because it has to operate in a safe environment.
That would be difficult because the health authority has been in deficit for five years in a row, he said.
“So there’s not much fat there to trim that hasn’t been done already. So it makes it very difficult.”
In addressing council, Woods mentioned that a consultant recommended in 2008 and 2009 that a new health centre would need about 36 extra staff.
However, he later explained that figure is no longer relevant because it assumed some things that never occurred, such as an increase in programs and services, and a higher population in the town.
The new health centre is expected to be completed by the builders and turned over to the GNWT early this month.
The move from the existing H.H. Williams Memorial Hospital is scheduled to begin on Oct. 1 and run to mid-December.
H.H. Williams will continue to operate for two years as a home for long-term care beds, which will eventually move to an expanded Woodland Manor, and it will also continue to house public health, homecare, human resources, finance, social services and environmental health until new locations are found.
The GNWT has provided extra funding to help keep H.H. Williams Memorial Hospital open.