YK would be ‘in same jam’ over births even with midwives, says minister

The Northwest Territories’ health minister says filling Yellowknife midwifery vacancies would be no solution to the city’s birthing crisis.

Four midwives were supposed to be hired this year after the territory freed up hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding, but two positions were only just advertised and two others won’t be filled until next year.

Meanwhile, the city’s Stanton Territorial Hospital has closed labour and delivery services from December until at least February because there are not enough obstetrics nurses available. Around 120 affected families must fly south for weeks at a time instead.


The territory’s midwives’ association has criticized the delay in filling the four vacancies.

Association president Heather Heinrichs told Cabin Radio: “Having midwives working in Yellowknife could reduce the strain of this staffing shortage on the nurses … potentially meaning that folks wouldn’t be forced to leave their communities for birth.”

But health minister Julie Green said on Thursday that hiring the midwives would not solve the broader problem.

“The scope of practice for midwives is different than it is for obstetric nurses,” Green told Great Slave MLA Katrina Nokleby in the legislature.

“Even had the midwifery positions been available for advertisement and if we have been fortunate enough to fill them at that time, we would still be in the same jam we are today with a shortage of obstetric nurses.


“So they are a valuable component of the suite of services that are provided to people giving birth, but they are not interchangeable.”

Nokleby had asked Green why the positions remained unfilled and what led to the delay, questions the minister did not answer.

Why midwife positions created from the same funding in Hay River and Fort Smith were filled this summer but two Yellowknife positions were only just advertised, and two more won’t appear for months, remains unclear.

“One hundred and twenty NWT and Nunavut individuals and families are being evacuated south because of the obstetrics closure … during a global pandemic,” Nokleby had said earlier on Thursday afternoon, “compromising our health and safety because of a nurses’ shortage.”

Referring to a government commitment to increase the number of healthcare workers in the territory, she added: “It is a nurses’ shortage the minister should have been aware of before last Friday, considering we’ve been discussing this for two years now and felt it was important enough to include in the mandate of the 19th Assembly.”

After initially stating they needed to hear from workers, ministers now insist they are well aware of problems recruiting and retaining healthcare staff and are working on solutions.

On Thursday, finance minister Caroline Wawzonek said work was happening “in real time” to find ways of addressing the cratering morale in some quarters of the public service. The Union of Northern Workers said it was “happy to sit down” and discuss options like Covid-19 hazard pay or retention bonuses.