In oxygen supply conundrum, Stanton cancels more surgeries

Last modified: September 25, 2021 at 10:26am

Yellowknife’s hospital still hasn’t solved an oxygen distribution problem that is complicating the way seriously ill Covid-19 patients in the NWT are treated.

In an update on Saturday, the NWT’s health authority said all manner of work had taken place to fix the issue but without apparent success. The contractor that installed the oxygen system is returning this weekend “to assist with finding a solution.”

The hospital is discussing possible federal support in the form of additional equipment that “will add capacity for oxygen delivery,” though details were limited.


A second intensive care unit in a different “oxygen distribution zone” within the hospital has been created to help patients who need ventilator support. Bedside oxygen tanks have not yet been required but are available, the health authority said.

With attention on resolving the problem, the health authority said “most” elective and non-urgent surgeries from now until Friday, October 1 will be cancelled. Only urgent exercise stress tests will be booked. Non-essential physiotherapy, occupational therapy, and speech language pathology appointments are being cancelled.

Helping severely ill Covid-19 patients to breathe is a priority, with high-flow oxygen devices now often preferred to intubation and mechanical ventilation as an initial treatment. But the high-flow devices require more than four times the oxygen flow of a ventilator – and Stanton’s infrastructure is struggling to meet that demand.

The hospital is only two years old and cost $350 million to build. The building opened a year before the pandemic hit. While some ventilation methods were tested once Covid-19 became a known threat, the hospital’s ability to send oxygen to high-flow devices – a relatively new treatment – wasn’t known until the first severely ill patients arrived.

The NWT government says five people with Covid-19 have been admitted to intensive care in the past week.


“At this point, this issue has not impacted our ability to care for Covid-19 patients or others who require emergency care,” the health authority said.

A more detailed briefing for reporters is expected early next week.

“This is not another ‘the hospital is a lemon’ issue,” health minister Julie Green said on Twitter after this article was first published. The hospital has in its brief existence faced other concerns, such as inconsistent temperature and leaking water.

“As I understand it, the number of patients who need oxygen and the volume of oxygen required for each is outside the scope the hospital oxygen was designed for,” Green wrote.


“How many hospitals were built with a respiratory pandemic in mind?”