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Hospital evac flight ‘aborted’ leaving Yellowknife nurses on edge

Stanton Territorial Hospital
Stanton Territorial Hospital. Sarah Pruys/Cabin Radio


A mercy flight taking Yellowknife hospital patients to safety was cancelled on Thursday, leaving nurses unsure how they’ll safely leave in the face of an oncoming wildfire.

Yellowknife residents have been ordered to exit the city and head south before noon on Friday, but nurses told Cabin Radio they are now being told to stay with no advice as to when a rearranged flight might depart.

Why Thursday’s planned flight for patients did not take place has not been made clear, but the NWT’s health authority acknowledged it had “aborted” such an attempt, saying evacuations are complex in nature.

“Staging of a small number of patients for transport had begun today and then was aborted as NTHSSA was informed of changes,” the authority said, using an initialism for itself.



“Patients were returned safely to the hospital and their care will be continued as inpatients until updated transport arrangements are confirmed.”

That was little reassurance to some staff.

“We were all set for an evacuation. We had transported the patients in the stretchers down to the designated area. Military planes were supposed to come and pick up patients from the airport,” one nurse told Cabin Radio, requesting anonymity to speak freely about their employer’s actions.

“We don’t have answers. When will the military pick up the patients? When will everybody be safely evacuated?



“When we asked what would happen if we chose to go, because of our situation or family waiting for us, they didn’t have answers. They just said if you are scheduled to work, you have to come or else you will have consequences.”

The nurse said needing staff to remain so patients can be safely transferred was “understandable” but employees needed “clearer answers,” not least so their families – waiting with packed cars in Yellowknife on Thursday evening – could be informed.

One nurse said they understood staff could now be flown out on a subsequent departure, but there was no confirmation that any such plan existed.

At 4:30pm on Thursday, health authority spokesperson David Maguire said he expected a flight for patients would now take place “in the next 24-36 hours.” He said some other patients, not in the affected group, had made it out by air earlier in the day.

“NTHSSA will ensure that our essential workers remaining in Yellowknife to provide care to our patients and clients are provided with evacuation transport when they are released from duty,” he wrote.

On Thursday afternoon, the NWT’s health authority posted a full list online of changes to healthcare services.

Dr Claudia Kraft, the territory’s medical director, told Cabin Radio “circumstances have been extremely challenging.”

Kraft, sounding openly exhausted in a phone interview earlier on Thursday, described how wildfire evacuations in multiple communities meant the NWT had “essentially lost a huge proportion of our acute care and long-term care services in the span of a couple of weeks.”



“People really want to know what’s happening today for the hospital,” said Kraft. “We’re working with a number of partners within and outside the territory to ensure that all the patients who are currently admitted at Stanton are able to be safely evacuated to other care sites where they can have sustained medical care.”

Kraft said she had “reassurances from Maca,” the territorial Department of Municipal and Community Affairs, that staff who stay to the end of the evacuation will be assisted in leaving.

“I really want to acknowledge that there has been some extraordinary, extraordinary work by health workers keeping people safe, doing things that we never – even in our really best-laid-out plans – actually imagined might have happened. And it would never have been possible without an exceptional amount of work,” Kraft added.

“We have innumerable healthcare heroes out there, still at it today, and one day there will be a lot of really great stories about that to share, but the focus today really is on making sure that we have safe transfer of all the remaining patients who are at Stanton today.”

Many patients are being taken out of Yellowknife on routes that are far outside the health authority’s usual southern supports. Kraft said not every patient’s family members could be reached to tell them where their loved ones had gone, but case managers would be assigned to get information to the right people “as we have information about where people are.”