Yellowknife's downtown primary care clinic. Ollie Williams/Cabin Radio
The NWT’s health authority is warning Yellowknife residents to expect limited services when they first return home.
In a notice on Friday, the authority said reinstating services in the city will take time, beginning with a focus on life-sustaining care. The authority said it expects the full resumption and stabilization of services could take up to a month.
“I think that’s going to be really challenging,” Dr Claudia Kraft, territorial medical director for the health authority, told Cabin Radio, adding that people “may not be able to get care that they would usually get.”
Despite the challenges, Kraft said the authority had been in “intensive planning” for re-entry and staff were “in a really good position to offer important services to those who are returning to Yellowknife.” She said that included positioning essential workers through this weekend and early next week.
Once the evacuation order for Yellowknife and surrounding areas is lifted – expected for September 6 – and the general public is allowed to return, the authority said it expects the following services will be available:
Stanton Territorial Hospital
Routine emergency department services
In-patient acute care at reduced capacity (currently planning for 10 general inpatient beds).
Emergency surgical services (life-threatening)
Emergency obstetrics for unexpected obstetrical care needs (to be managed in the emergency department in the first phase of resumption)
Support services including lab, diagnostic imaging, medical device reprocessing, and materials management, and certain facility services
Primary care – may only be open for limited walk-in appointments
Mental health – will provide virtual services and limited in-person services
Public health – will be closed but begin scheduling urgent and missed appointments,
Child and family services – will provide logistical and support for clients’ re-entry (i.e. Foster families, and NGO’s) as well as emergency child protection service
Home care services – will be reduced. Staff will be contacting existing clients to discuss what services they can be offered
Shelter services – will be available as of the date of general public re-entry
Services not expected to be available when Yellowknife initially reopens include the intensive care unit, routine obstetrical services, chemotherapy, dialysis, IV therapy, pediatric emissions, and surgical services beyond emergencies.
In many of those cases, the authority said, people needing care may be medevaced out of the territory.
“We’re still going to need to use our air ambulance and medevac transport resources quite a bit in those early days,” Kraft said. “We’re going to still have a lot of people that will need to have their care outside of the territory.”
“We understand there may be individuals who are concerned about the availability of health and social services in Yellowknife,” the notice stated. “Should you choose not to return to your home community after an evacuation order is lifted because of this concern, please be aware that supports for evacuees may cease when re-entry flights have been completed.”
For people who are advised not to return for medical reasons, such as those needing dialysis, chemotherapy or with advanced or high-risk pregnancies, the authority said medical travel supports will be coordinated once evacuee supports end.
Long-term care residents, extended care patients and inpatients evacuated from the NWT will be returned toward the end of the “service resumption period,” dependent on when facilities in their communities reopen.
The City of Yellowknife and the Yellowknives Dene First Nation announced on Friday night that residents could begin returning to the city, Ndılǫ and Dettah as soon as September 6 at noon.
Yellowknife Mayor Rebecca Alty said during Thursday night’s press conference that healthcare and other critical services, like grocery stores, “won’t be fully staffed or back to 100 percent” before the city begins the final step of its re-entry plan. She said “that would take too long” and urged residents to be patient once they return to the city.
The return of essential workers to restart core services was put on pause earlier this week due to wildfire risks to highways. Some healthcare staff are still being flown in to Yellowknife.