Staffing Shortages at the Northern Haida Gwaii Hospital

A message from the physicians of Haida Gwaii

We would like to share what information we have about possible changes in health care on Haida Gwaii, and how we are working together to respond. 

The staffing shortages affecting clinics and hospitals across the country have come to Haida Gwaii. The ongoing toll of COVID, an aging population (and workforce) and increasing complexity of care has placed huge stress on existing staff and has made replacing departing staff very difficult. As with every other health care facility in Canada, there is increasing reliance on a limited supply of temporary workers such as travel nurses.  

Staff shortages are most acute at the Northern Haida Gwaii Hospital (NHGH), in Gaw Masset. Northern Health’s local and regional administrators, nurses, and physicians are working together on ways to provide the best possible care under various staffing scenarios. We are working to get the exact details right and share them as soon as possible. 

It is likely that the NHGH will be unable to admit patients to hospital for periods of time. This would result in patients being transferred to the Haida Gwaii Hospital in Daajing Giids or off island.  If there is an even greater staff shortage, NHGH may have to close its emergency room overnight. The priority will be to continue to have on-call nurses and physicians that can help ambulance to stabilize critical patients locally before they are transfered out of community. There may also be longer wait times for an ambulance as we anticipate more transfers between hospitals.  

What can you do? 

First, please use after-hours emergency services only for truly urgent issues that cannot wait until morning. Each hospital has the most staff during daytime hours and there will be additional access then for those needing to be seen urgently. 

The Northern Health Virtual Clinic also provides access to a family doctor or nurse practitioner between the hours of 10am to 10pm, and can be reached at 1-844-645-7811.  

https://www.northernhealth.ca/locations/medical-clinics/virtual-clinic

The First Nations Virtual Doctor of the Day enables First Nations people to access a doctor 7-days a week, from 8:30am to 4:30pm. This service can be reached at 1-855-344-3800.  

https://www.fnha.ca/what-we-do/ehealth/virtual-doctor-of-the-day

You can 811 to speak with a nurse is available 24/7 to offer advice for any health problem, and to help you decide how urgent your issue may be.

https://www.healthlinkbc.ca/health-services/healthlink-bc-811-services

Finally, we urge the public to be patient and kind. We are all feeling the stresses of the situation. Let’s focus our collective energies towards initiatives that will help us recruit and retain health care providers and strengthen our communal safety net. We need your help.

– The Physicians of Haida Gwaii

We know what to do.

As the number of active COVID cases is rising on Haida Gwaii, let’s remind ourselves of what matters. We are fortunate to live in a community where people care about each other. More than ever now, we need to look out for one another, and do the right thing.

We all know what to do   

We can continue to help slow the spread of the virus by following the advice of our Public Health Team and EOCs:

  1. Stay home if you are feeling sick or have been in close contact with someone who is sick    
  2. When outside of your “bubble”, stay at least 2m (6 feet) away from others; if you cannot do so, wear a comfortable mask to reduce the risk of transmission (even if you feel well)    
  3. Wash your hands often, and try to not touch your face
  4. Be kind to each other – trust that each person is doing the best they can, given their particular circumstances.
  5. Reach out to each other – help make sure those of us who must isolate can do so safely. Call them, offer to get groceries or medicines.

We are ready for this      

  1. We have clear protocols and the necessary resources to ensure that people have access to the care they need and take precautions in the timeliest way possible
  2. You will be contacted directly by our Public Health Team as soon as possible if it is discovered that you are infected or have been exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID-19    ​
  3. Your health care providers and EOCs are prepared to help care for those who may get sick during this pandemic  

We are going to be OK    

  1. Most people who get COVID will fully recover and will do so in the comfort of their own home, with close monitoring by their health care providers to ensure that they get the care they need, when they need it
  2. As long as we all do our part, the spread of COVID in our community will be limited and our health care services will be able to manage what comes our way    ​

Watch the recent COVID-19 update hosted by Jisgang (Nika Collison) with: 
– Haida Nation: President Gaagwiis (Jason Alsop)
– Niislaa Naay Healing House (Old Massett Health Centre): Monica Brown, Health Director and Shauna Smith, Community Health Nurse 
– Xaaynangaa Naay House of Life (Skidegate Health Centre): Lauren Brown, Health Director 
– First Nations Health Authority, Dr Nel Wieman, Deputy Chief Medical Officer

End of 2020 – COVID update

Citizens of Haida Gwaii have seen their lives changed radically. Since March, we have focused diligently on social measures that have almost certainly saved lives. We now wear masks, wash our hands, stand apart from one another. We limit out travel to the mainland and upon returning, most of us isolate to protect our friends, family and neighbours. Christmas this year will be a very different experience – smaller and quieter, and for many of us, lonely. Celebration and ceremony is on hold. We cannot feast, dance or sing, celebrate marriage or birth, or grieve at funerals. The sick in hospital and elders in care cannot receive visitors. Every aspect of social life on Haida Gwaii is different. And local leadership has worked tirelessly to assess the onslaught of news, science, public health advice and epidemiology. For all this, the physicians of Haida Gwaii say haawa.

Yet, we have not been spared from COVID. Since the pandemic, 0.6% of Haida Gwaii citizenry has been infected (provincially, it is 0.7%). We have vastly increased our testing capacity: to date, over 700 COVID tests have been done with an overall positivity rate of 4%. But, we have not had any hospitalizations or deaths. Hospital staff and physicians have been carefully preparing. We run drills on how to safely manage very sick patients. We have reorganized our hospitals entirely: rooms set aside for COVID patients, additional ventilators and personal protective equipment, policies to control access and flow into the buildings, virtual appointments, limited in person meetings. However, access to medical care remains very challenging. Our vital visiting specialist program has essentially stopped, meaning that roughly 3000 consultations have not occurred. And hundreds have made the choice to delay or cancel important medical trips away.

It is clear now that there are only two ways back to normalcy. Either at least 50% of the population becomes infected, reducing the pool of vulnerable individuals. Or, an effective vaccine is provided to at least the same proportion and we acquire “herd immunity” through immunization.

On December 9, Dr Bonnie Henry announced that BC will be launching a vaccination campaign next week. Health Canada has approved the first of what will be several vaccines effective at protecting against infection. Months ago, Canada had the foresight to sign supply contracts with 7 of the top vaccine makers, so we are well positioned to gain control of the virus earlier than the majority of other countries. A comprehensive rollout plan is in place to rollout vaccines to health care staff and those in elder care first, then to vulnerable elders and those with chronic illnesses in community. It is anticipated that vaccinations will be available for anyone requesting it by June 2021. We have reached the turning point in this global battle with this disease.

Until we are there, we encourage calling the Northern Health Virtual (COVID) line @ 1-844-645-7811 if you have any COVID-19 symptoms to set up testing. Please be patient as there are long wait times to speak with a nurse or doctor on this line. But please know that you can always get tested by calling your hospital or clinic and speaking with the nurse. (Daajing Giids / Queen Charlotte 250-559-4900, Gaw 250-626-4711). Testing is the only way we can identify when the virus is on island, and we strongly encourage you to call if you are wondering if you should be tested.

To the public, again we wish to say thank you. Haawa for keeping yourself and others safe by following the advice of public health and local and provincial leadership. Together we will get through this.

Be safe. Be calm. Be kind.

A message from Haida Gwaii physicians:

As we deal with continued concerns around COVID on Haida Gwaii, it is important to ground ourselves in what we know:

We can all do our part    

We can continue to help slow the spread of the virus by following the advice of our Public Health Team and EOCs:

  1. Stay home if you are feeling sick or have been in close contact with someone who is sick    
  2. When outside of your “bubble”, stay at least 2m (6 feet) away from others; if you cannot do so, wear a comfortable mask to reduce the risk of transmission (even if you feel well)    
  3. Wash your hands often, and try to not touch your face
  4. Be kind to each other – trust that each person is doing the best they can, given their particular circumstances

Fear is seldom kind and never wise (Ursula K. Le Guin)

We are ready for this      

  1. We have clear protocols and the necessary resources to ensure that people have access to the care they need and take precautions in the timeliest way possible;
  2. You will be contacted directly by our Public Health Team as soon as possible if it is discovered that you are infected or have been exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID-19    ​
  3. Your health care providers and EOCs are prepared to help care for those who may get sick during this pandemic  

We are going to be OK    

  1. Most people who get COVID will fully recover and will do so in the comfort of their own home, with close monitoring by their health care providers to ensure that they get the care they need, when they need it
  2. As long as we all do our part, the spread of COVID in our community will be limited and our health care services will be able to manage what comes our way    ​

Be safe. Be calm. Be kind. (Dr Bonnie Henry)

Systemic Racism in Health Care: A Response from Haida Gwaii Physicians

On this National Indigenous Peoples Day, we are dismayed by the recent report from Health Minister Adrian Dix describing a serious example of systemic racism in our healthcare system. As your doctors, we feel angry and also ashamed that such damaging attitudes and behaviours exist in our profession, despite our spoken commitments to provide care with compassion and respect.
Trust takes decades of diligent care to build, and may vanish in an instant with a thoughtless word or gesture. Without trust, there is no healing connection. Blatant acts of racism such those reported by Minister Dix damage this trust. We fear that these practices may widen the care gap as people justifiably lose faith in their healthcare providers, and avoid or delay accessing the services they need.
While we feel disheartened, we as physicians must also see this as an opportunity for humility and growth. It is another chance for those of us who have been sheltered from racism to realize the magnitude of the problem and shock us into action. 
It can be easy to distance ourselves from blatant acts of racism, to dismiss them as exceptions. It is more difficult to acknowledge how we, as health care providers, personally contribute to the persistence of systemic racism through ignorance or inaction. We do so by not taking the time to learn the history that has led to the current injustices. We do so by not uncovering the root causes of suffering and addiction. We do so by remaining silent, by ignoring our privilege to use the means we have (our voice, our influence, our strength) to address racism and injustice.
May this most recent example of systemic racism awaken and deepen our sense of shared humanity so we can embrace the words of American political activist and philosopher Angela Davis: “I’m no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I’m changing the things I cannot accept.”

With gratitude for the privilege to serve our communities, and with the knowledge that this privilege must be earned again every day,

The Physicians of Haida Gwaii

  • Jocelyn Black
  • James Chrones
  • Michel Daoust-Wheatley
  • Gordon Horner
  • Jordan Koopmans
  • Michele Leslie
  • Tasha Maheu
  • Tracy Morton
  • Tamara Pacholuk
  • Caroline Shooner
  • Skylar Van Osch
  • Caroline Walker
  • Catherine Wong

If you or your loved one has experienced discrimination when accessing care, please contact the NH Patient Care Quality Office

If you want to educate yourself about how to provide care in a culturally safe manner, please visit http://www.sanyas.ca

COPING with COVID-19: Mental Health Resources on Haida Gwaii

Coping during the pandemic can be difficult. Most of us will experience anxiety as we worry for ourselves or our loved ones, and wonder what kind of future lies ahead.

Please know that you are not alone!

Here are some resources to help you stay well during these stressful times:

24 HOUR CRISIS LINE: 1-888-562-1214 

NORTH END Resources

Haida Health Centre’s Mental Wellness: 250-626-7884

Northern Health’s Adult Mental Health: 250-626-4725

Haida Gwaii Society for Peace – for those experiencing or at risk of domestic violence:  250-626-4666 (24hr) 

Island Wide Haida Child & Family Services for children, youth & adults of Haida ancestry: 250-280-7896 

SOUTH END Resources

Skidegate Health Centre- online at https://skidegatehc.janeapp.com or 778-361-0179

Northern Health’s Haida Gwaii Health Centre: 250-559-4933

Island Wellness Society for those impacted by trauma or violence  – Child & youth counselling: 250-559-4767

Women’s Counseling:  250-559-8828 

ONLINE Resources

Coping with COVID-19

Accessing medical care on Haida Gwaii during the pandemic

While we are encouraging everybody to stay at home and minimize contact with others to avoid the spread of COVID-19, your North and South End hospitals remain open and accessible 24/7 to all who need medical attention. We have taken all the precautions to keep you, our hospital patients and the staff safe when medical care is needed. We are also providing regular virtual appointments (by telephone and, very soon, by video) to continue caring for you in a timely way.

If you need medical care during the pandemic, please follow these steps:

CALL FIRST

SOUTH END of Haida Gwaii residents = 1-250-559-4900

NORTH END of Haida Gwaii residents = 1-250-626-4702

If you need an ambulance, call 1-800-461-9911

If you need to be seen in person (such as for certain medical appointments, emergencies, urgent blood tests or Xrays), you will be directed to come to the hospital at a given time.

When you arrive to the hospital, here is what you can expect:

SOUTH END ( Xaayda Gwaay Ngaaysdll Naay – Haida Gwaii Hospital & Health Centre)

NORTH END (Northern Haida Gwaii Hospital)

Please do not hesitate to reach out to us! We will figure out the best and safest way to care for you.

COVID-19: An Urgent Message From Haida Gwaii Physicians

[NB: this post was written jointly by all Haida Gwaii Physicians, to share their urgent concerns for the well-being of the people of Haida Gwaii]

As the COVID-19 virus draws closer to our islands, there are some important ways we can work together to reduce the impact on our communities.

If we let the virus spread the way it has in other places, we would expect well over 400 people here to be sick enough to need to be in hospital. We only have 12 acute care beds between the two hospitals, and most of these are already full. Over 20 people could become sick enough to need a ventilator (breathing machine), and we have only two of these on the islands. Also keep in mind that, as our health care resources get diverted to deal with those that get very sick, we will struggle to keep up with the usual health care emergencies (heart attacks, accidents, etc.). This pandemic has consequences for everybody’s health.

However, if we ALL work together, the numbers of people who may get seriously ill will be much less and will be spread out over a longer time. We will then be more able to help those who need it most.

HERE IS HOW YOU CAN HELP US HELP YOU

This virus spreads wherever people come together, so the most important thing you can do is STAY AT HOME and limit visitors. If you must leave your home for work or essentials, keep your distance from others, ideally beyond 2 meters (6 feet). Wash your hands often and try not to touch your face (and wash your hands or use sanitizer after you do!). Please encourage friends and family to do the same.

1. If you develop a fever, cold symptoms or a cough, use the ONLINE SELF-ASSESSMENT TOOL or call the NH COVID-19 Hotline = 1-844-645-7811 to help you decide if you need medical attention.

2. If you need to see a doctor, CALL FIRST, so we can prepare for your visit and not keep you waiting where the virus can be spread to others.

SOUTH END of Haida Gwaii residents = 1-250-559-4900

NORTH END of Haida Gwaii residents = 1-250-626-4702

3. Stay calm and be kind, but do not minimize the seriousness of the situation. Encourage each other (and our elected politicians!) to do the right thing in a timely fashion, and support each other through this crisis – only together can we make a difference and save lives! 

We want you to know that all the health care staff of Haida Gwaii are here for you and continue to prepare the best they can for the challenges that lie ahead. We are working hard to adapt to this evolving situation, to get through this in the best way possible. We care deeply for you all and want the best for you and your families.

On Island Cancer Care Returning To Haida Gwaii

The healthcare teams of Haida Gwaii are incredibly pleased to announce that intravenous cancer treatment (chemotherapy) will be resumed on Haida Gwaii starting on October 28th, 2019. This is very exciting news as patients will no longer need to travel off-island for these important treatments.

Thanks to everyone for being so patient with this disruption to care while steps were taken to bring chemotherapy services back on island.

Your cancer care team is looking forward to providing this critical service so close to home going forward.

Text Messaging with your Health Care Team

In April 2017, the clinic at Haida Gwaii Hospital (HGH) launched text-messaging communication where enrolled patients have the ability to communicate health care needs with the care team at the hospital. Currently, about 110 patients are using the service and most find it useful. Some use it to request appointment booking, some to request renewal of medications, some to share results. In the first 16 months of use, we dealt with nearly 1000 care conversations, many of which were successful at preventing a phone call to reception or a visit to the clinic. 


The system we use is called Weltel, a web-based texting platform that organizes and archives text conversations. We are looking at ways of up-scaling use so that we are able to offer it to more people served by HGH, and we are sharing our experience of using this program elsewhere. There are countries in Africa where people have been receiving text-messaging based care for many years. It is ironic that Canada and the US have yet to use this form of communication. Who knows? One day, we might be routinely supporting health care with text-messaging and catch up with Kenya and Rwanda!


For more information about this project, please contact Alissa MacMullin, the project coordinator at pacificchiton@gmail.com or Dr Tracy Morton @ 250-559-4901.