The Northwest Territories’ main hospital is struggling to deliver enough oxygen to treat severely ill Covid-19 patients, the NWT’s health authority says.
High-flow oxygen devices are used to help Covid-19 patients breathe. They are considered a better initial option than intubation and mechanical ventilators, the health authority said, as they aren’t as invasive. But they need more than four times the oxygen flow of a ventilator.
Yellowknife’s Stanton Territorial Hospital, which only opened in 2019, has “an infrastructure limitation” that is limiting “the total volume of oxygen that can be delivered in each zone of the building at one time,” the health authority said in a statement.
Staff at the hospital reported the problem to multiple northern newsrooms.
The health authority said the issue had only “become apparent as the numbers of Covid-19 and other patients requiring ventilatory support in the hospital has grown in recent days.”
Cabin Radio understands at least four people were in intensive care at Stanton as of Tuesday, though it’s not clear if all of those were related to Covid-19. The NWT government says four people were admitted to intensive care with Covid-19 between Friday and Tuesday this week. There are understood to be six intensive care beds available.
The health authority described a “surge in hospitalized Covid-19 patients” in recent days. When the oxygen issue arose on Tuesday, the hospital cancelled a morning of surgeries while it worked on the issue and had to move patients out of intensive care to other hospital areas.
The hospital says it is now using bedside oxygen tanks where possible and asking Alberta experts for “advice on immediate mitigation strategies.
The NWT government’s Department of Infrastructure, which oversaw the public-private partnership that built the hospital, has been asked to intervene, as has the private company that now manages the hospital, Dexterra.
“There have been no negative impacts to patient care aside from yesterday’s surgical cancellations, and we continue to be able to provide high quality care to our current Covid-19 and other patients,” the health authority said.
Solving the problem was important, the authority added, given the situation in Alberta, where hospitals that would ordinarily act as a backup provider for the NWT are now being overwhelmed by Covid-19 cases of their own.
“It is important to note that we are still able to care for patients who need acute care services, whether related to Covid-19, or otherwise,” said the health authority.
“This notice is being provided as a precaution to let residents know there may be further impacts should case counts increase and in turn put demands on our acute care services, and as a reminder to residents to follow public health guidance, and to get vaccinated, to prevent hospitalizations in the first place.”
The health authority said the issue only came to light this week as the health authority had previously tested Stanton’s capacity for mechanical ventilation but not high-flow oxygen, as the latter devices “were not yet part of the standard treatment for Covid-19” at the time of the tests.
“Gradually, our understanding of the illness and the approach to care has shifted,” the authority said. “With this change come these unexpected demands on our infrastructure.
“Other jurisdictions have faced similar issues related to capacity as these devices were implemented, and the NWT Health and Social Services Authority is reaching out to determine what solutions or lessons may be available.”
The hospital’s latest infrastructure problem – the building has already struggled with inconsistent temperatures and water leaks, leading one employee to state it was “falling apart” six months after opening – comes amid a continuing struggle to find staff.
Canadian Red Cross nurses have been deployed to help at Stanton, but even then there have been teething problems. In at least one instance, a Red Cross nurse was said to have arrived without the correct licence to work in the territory and had to wait for a licence to be hurriedly issued.