Birthing tubs in the new Stanton Territorial Hospital's obstetrics ward remain out of use, almost nine months after the facility opened.
Kim Riles, Stanton's outgoing chief operating officer, said on Tuesday the hospital still had too few trained staff to be able to open rooms containing the tubs.
Responding to Kam Lake MLA Caitlin Cleveland during a briefing on the new hospital's challenges, Riles said to open the tubs to mothers now would be unsafe.
"That's one of our key areas where we're struggling with recruitment and basically just being able to sustain operations," said Riles.
"It was certainly identified as a key training need, to ensure we were able to manage labouring mothers in the tub safely.
"With safety always being a top priority ... it was felt that was something we could put on hold until we were feeling stable and could ensure everybody was trained."
The birthing tubs were a highlight of tours given to residents and reporters during construction of the hospital in 2018 and early 2019.
No such facility was provided in the old hospital. Riles said their status as "an enhancement" was another reason their opening could be delayed, as it meant no loss of an existing service.
Riles is set to leave her role as the hospital's chief operating officer. She announced her departure in January, but is believed to be staying on until a replacement has settled in.
Cleveland asked about the tubs during a two-hour examination of Riles and other senior managers regarding problems at the hospital since it opened in May 2019.
Staff shortages at the obstetrics unit have been a problem for some time.
Last year, reporting by the CBC showed a lack of staff in 2018 – in the old hospital – had led to what a conduct committee termed "an unsafe work environment … and a threat to public safety."
The closed-off birthing tubs are not the only areas of the new Stanton yet to be pressed into service.
"There are unopened rooms throughout the building that could be used for future program expansion, should that be needed, based on demand," Riles told MLAs on Tuesday.
She added that the extended care unit will eventually move back into the old hospital once that building is renovated, freeing up another unit in the new hospital.
Riles also noted the hospital's ability to cope with a contagious threat, like coronavirus, exists but has not yet been tested.
"We have a number of other functionalities within the hospital that have not had to be implemented," she said,
"We have the ability to have a pandemic mode within the facility, where we can create negative pressure spaces within full units of the hospital."
The NWT government's mandate, published last week, pledges action to increase the number of resident healthcare workers in the territory by 20 percent.
That will include the formation of a dedicated health and social services recruitment team.