A blue sign atop the Stanton Territorial Hospital in Yellowknife. Sarah Pruys/Cabin Radio
Some NWT health authority staff who evacuated by road may be asked to leave their vehicles behind as they return to re-establish services in Yellowknife.
A Wednesday email sent on behalf of Kimberly Riles, the health authority’s chief executive officer, stated essential staff would be brought back to Yellowknife only by air from Calgary or Edmonton in the coming days.
Road closures are expected from Friday until at least Sunday because of high winds in the South Slave and associated wildfire risk, leaving air the only safe means of getting people back to Yellowknife to restart some health services in time for a broader return.
“We know that staff who agree to return via air may also have travelled south by road, and will be looking for details on what supports may be available to recover vehicles or other items,” the health authority’s email to staff acknowledged, adding more information will be provided when it becomes available.
One nurse, who wrote to Cabin Radio anonymously, expressed concern that they could be asked to leave their vehicle behind with no retrieval plan, or could face pushback for refusing to do so.
“I am not sure how many would trust the empty promises any branch of the GNWT gives at this point, seeing as throughout this emergency the GNWT has provided little to no clarity or consistency on issues. And has gone back on their word a number of times,” they wrote.
Essential health and social services need to be re-established in the NWT capital before the evacuation order is lifted and the general public can return, authorities have consistently asserted.
A previous email sent to health authority staff stated the first phase of the restart will include emergency department services, in-patient acute care, emergency surgical services, emergency obstetrics and support services at Stanton Territorial Hospital, as well as primary care and mental health services. Limited child and family services are also being prioritized.
“It is important to note that not all staff in the areas identified for initial service resumption will be required or requested for early re-entry,” Wednesday’s email stated. “We are first seeking those staff who are willing and able to return quickly and begin working.”
The health authority has said it needs to limit the number of staff that return in case there’s a need to get people back out of the city again in the near future. There is still a risk to Yellowknife from wildfires, the authority told staff, though the two fires nearest Yellowknife are now “being held” rather than out of control.
Other city services like groceries and gas will be limited, staff were told, and childcare may not be available at all. The Department of Education, Culture and Employment has said it is conducting “essentially an expression of interest” to bring back childcare providers who want to help, though when they’ll be able to arrive, given the road closures, is not clear.
In Wednesday’s email, staff were asked to fill out a survey so the health authority has information about where they are currently located and other details, such as their air travel needs.
Riles, during a Thursday afternoon press conference, said the health authority expected to pay staff to return to retrieve their vehicles at a later date.
“We do expect it’s a very small number of folks that this will impact,” she said, “and we are prepared to support them being able to get their vehicle.”