This is page numbers 2951 - 2988 of the Hansard for the 19th Assembly, 2nd Session. The original version can be accessed on the Legislative Assembly's website or by contacting the Legislative Assembly Library. The word of the day was public.

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Oral Question 786-19(2): Obstetrical Care
Oral Questions

Page 2964

Katrina Nokleby Great Slave

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, that's quite shocking to me. I knew we were a fertile territory but I didn't realize the number was that great. I guess my next question is what other ongoing work is being done to address the nursing shortage in the NWT overall. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Oral Question 786-19(2): Obstetrical Care
Oral Questions

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Julie Green Yellowknife Centre

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, of course, we have a mandate commitment to increase the resident work force and to that end, we have created a draft plan to create a sustainable workplace which the standing committee will see when it is in its more advanced form.

The recruitment staff have continued to go to fairs, career fairs. They have employed everyone who has come out of Aurora College in the last year. They have used social media platforms and traditional forms of advertising. They've called agencies for locums. They've talked to people about canceling their transfer assignments. They have talked to people who are not currently working as OBS nurses about whether they would like to come back as OBS nurses. So I feel confident that the health authority has tried every way to mitigate this, but if more ideas come forward as a result of this announcement, we're certainly willing to work with them. Thank you.

Oral Question 786-19(2): Obstetrical Care
Oral Questions

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The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Oral Questions. Final supplementary, Member for Great Slave.

Oral Question 786-19(2): Obstetrical Care
Oral Questions

Page 2964

Katrina Nokleby Great Slave

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, I am glad to hear that there is some optimism around turning this around. So I guess then my next question for the Minister is what does she see as some of the biggest barriers to addressing our nursing shortage here in the territory. Thank you.

Oral Question 786-19(2): Obstetrical Care
Oral Questions

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Julie Green Yellowknife Centre

Yes, thank you. I think the biggest reason is, in fact the reasons that were outlined in the letter that was sent to all of us at the beginning of the month - nurses are burned out. They have had their leave cancelled and shortened, and they are at the end of their rope. We are giving them the time off that they are requesting, and this is the end result of it. We don't have enough nurses to keep the obstetrics unit open.

We pay very well. We have the second highest wages in the country. But having said that, because there have been more wages paid in the South, the gap between southern wages and northern wages has started to close. So it's no longer as lucrative for nurses to come here as it might have been, even a couple of years ago.

We have very limited levers to do anything about that for reasons that some people have already discussed. The nurses are part of the UNW, and the UNW settled its collective agreement this spring for two years and provided everybody with an increase but not with a special amount of money for nurses.

So where we're at is we're in this highly competitive environment to attract nurses here. We have good wages but they are not as good as they once were in comparison to other jurisdictions. And of course we also have a high cost of living. So we're in a very challenging situation to bring on full-time staff. Thank you.

Oral Question 786-19(2): Obstetrical Care
Oral Questions

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The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Minister. Oral questions. Member for Kam Lake.

Oral Question 787-19(2): Obstetrical Care
Oral Questions

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Caitlin Cleveland Kam Lake

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. And I want to start off by saying thank you to the Minister who has listened to many of the anecdotes I have shared from constituents of Yellowknife who have come forward to me.

I want to start off by asking about supports for families. When parents are away, they're going to be expected to be leaving three weeks early. That means that they are going to be receiving at least three weeks less income to start off. In addition to that, I received word today that one of my constituents is being asked to pay a copayment fee in order to travel down to Edmonton. They're not a GNWT employee, so they do not receive additional medical travel benefits for that and so I'm wondering what financial supports the Department of Health and Social Services are making available for families. Thank you.

Oral Question 787-19(2): Obstetrical Care
Oral Questions

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The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you. Minister of Health and Social Services.

Oral Question 787-19(2): Obstetrical Care
Oral Questions

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Julie Green Yellowknife Centre

Yes, thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, the department is making medical travel supports available to people so that means the airfare is covered. The accommodation is covered on a sliding scale depending on the family's income, whether they qualify to go into Larga or whether they need to get a hotel of their own. What we recognize about these situations is that they are all unique. And so the staff has been calling each expectant parent and doing case management with them where they determine what their needs are and what kind of supports in particular we can provide to them by coordinating benefits with an employer, engaging federal supports such as Jordan's Principle, providing system navigation with other departments such as ECE for income support, and even potentially establishing brief voluntary service agreements through Child and Family Services to support families who need extra income for child care, grocery vouchers and so on. So we recognize that this is a difficult situation, and we're trying to provide case management to reassure parents that we're going to help them.

Now, on the topic of lost income, I'm sorry, we don't provide lost income for expectant parents. And I just want to underline that while this is a novel situation for Yellowknife, of the 23 births anticipated from December 10th to the end of the month, eight are from Yellowknife and 23 are from the communities. And my point in raising that is that this situation of having to leave family and supports and come and live in a place that we're not from for three to five weeks is in fact a common Northwest Territories experience. That doesn't make it great for people in Yellowknife.

But we need to consider that we need to make the situation equitable among the people who come from small communities and those in Yellowknife who are now inconvenienced by the closure of the obstetrics unit. Thank you.

Oral Question 787-19(2): Obstetrical Care
Oral Questions

Page 2965

Caitlin Cleveland Kam Lake

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. I think it's safe to say that this is a little bit more than an inconvenience for people having to travel away. And I absolutely respect the fact that people have been doing this for a very long time from communities, but there's definitely been -- they've had more than three weeks notice that they're pregnant and expected to travel not in their home community. I have, for example, in my constituency that I serve, people who now have weeks of notice that they will be expected to travel. They do not have a support system in town where they can simply leave older children. They do not work for the government. They are not Indigenous and eligible for supports through NIHB. So right off the bat, there is a definite significant financial burden. As well, many of the people I serve are self-employed. They don't qualify for EI payments either. So this is definitely an emotional and financial shock to their family. With that being said, the hotel benefits for medical travel right now are $50 a night. I don't know of a single hotel in Edmonton that is $50 a night.

So is the Minister willing to change the medical travel hotel benefit to reflect the actual cost of hotels in Edmonton. Thank you.

Oral Question 787-19(2): Obstetrical Care
Oral Questions

Page 2965

Julie Green Yellowknife Centre

Yes, thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, medical travel will by default approve a support person to go with the pregnant person to Edmonton to give birth. That means that their total benefits are $100 a night for a hotel room - I'm assuming that they would share that hotel room - and $36 for food.

I recognize that that doesn't cover the whole costs, but medical travel doesn't, in any case, cover the whole costs; it makes the services more accessible. But you could argue that that still isn't enough, but that is the medical travel policy as it exists today. Thank you.

Oral Question 787-19(2): Obstetrical Care
Oral Questions

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Caitlin Cleveland Kam Lake

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. So Mr. Speaker, that means that somebody who's travelling without their spouse because their spouse doesn't have the time off required or somebody who is a single parent is getting $50 while somebody who is in a double-income potential family is getting a hundred dollars for their hotel room. So that's a huge discrepancy. And when we're talking about equity, that is not equitable.

Mr. Speaker, my next question for the Minister is in regards to supports for parents that have no support system in the NWT or do not feel that it is safe to leave their children home in the NWT for weeks. Are there supports that Health and Social Services is working to make available in Edmonton for families that need to travel with their children. Thank you.

Oral Question 787-19(2): Obstetrical Care
Oral Questions

Page 2965

Julie Green Yellowknife Centre

Yes, thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, let me reiterate again that the obstetrics team is calling each patient individually and doing case management with them. They -- I have enumerated a number of supports that may be possible to families. And the obstetrics teams are eager to set people up with supports.

What we want is to help them organize and plan their trip and to make this experience as least disruptive as possible. And so that is what they -- that's what they're working on. And I would really encourage the people who are caught up in this obstetrics closure to engage with the obstetrics team and talk to them about the things they need so that they can be accommodated. Thank you.

Oral Question 787-19(2): Obstetrical Care
Oral Questions

November 23rd, 2021

Page 2965

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Minister. Final supplementary, Member for Kam Lake.

Oral Question 787-19(2): Obstetrical Care
Oral Questions

Page 2965

Caitlin Cleveland Kam Lake

Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, while a parent travels to Edmonton to deliver a child and travels home with a newborn, they will be required to isolate when they return to the Northwest Territories. My concern with this is that families are going to want to be together. Potentially there will be other children in the family. And one of the parents may still be required to go to work.

So I'm wondering if there will be an exemption for the parent that needs to return to work to be able to live in the home to support a new baby and a parent who has just delivered. And so I would like to know what the rules will be around exemptions for vaccines -- sorry. I've lost my words at the end of that sentence. Thank you.