Childcare worry continues for expecting parents sent to Edmonton

There is still “no across-the-board approach” to help expecting families who already have children cover childcare while they are sent to Edmonton during Yellowknife’s birthing crisis.

Health minister Julie Green said on Wednesday her staff were “looking at a range of supports” to help those families but there would be no blanket offer of extra financial assistance for people in that predicament.

This month’s suspension of labour and delivery service at Yellowknife’s hospital means dozens of families will be sent to Alberta to give birth until at least February.


However, the financial support on offer for those families extends only to the person giving birth and one other traveller.

Birth doula Jess Bourassa, who set up an online support group for affected families, told Cabin Radio the lack of support for childcare was the “number one concern” expressed by people trying to adapt after the territory ran out of staff to keep Stanton Territorial Hospital’s obstetrics unit functioning normally.

“It absolutely breaks my heart,” said Bourassa on Wednesday, describing the raft of decisions expecting families are being asked to make – not least whether their children will be left in Yellowknife or brought to Edmonton for what could be a weeks-long process.

“The Edmonton piece is a lot more tricky, because you don’t know when you’re going into labour. And you don’t know how many days you’re going to need to stay at the hospital,” said Bourassa.

“It’s just a huge question mark that is actually quite concerning. From what I know, at this point, there’s nothing in place.”


One affected parent writing to Cabin Radio said they had chosen to fly beyond Alberta to have their baby with family in January, “where we don’t have to worry about paying for childcare for our three-year-old.” Medical travel will not cover the toddler, the parent said, leaving their family “on the hook for all travel costs associated with her.”

Referring to an earlier discussion of the issue in the NWT legislature, the parent said they felt the health minister, Julie Green, had made the surprise relocation of childbirth to Alberta sound like any other form of medical travel.

That was “completely infuriating,” they wrote.

Bourassa added: “They’re forced to be in the situation, so I don’t feel that it’s fair for them to have to pick up all the pieces in this extremely stressful time.”


Green has previously stated it is not possible to amend or augment existing medical travel policies to account for the unexpected situation in which families slated to give birth in Yellowknife now find themselves.

On Wednesday, the minister said staff were working with individual families but made no promise that the issue of how weeks of childcare are to be funded would be addressed.

“There is no across-the-board approach to people who have children,” said Green.

“We are aware that families want to stay together if at all possible, and so we are looking at a range of supports to make that possible.

“In some cases, families have resolved this issue on their own. As you may know, the bulk of the women displaced by the closure of the obstetrics unit come from outside of Yellowknife. And so they had this issue on their radar, I’m going to say from the time they discovered they were pregnant, and have solutions in place.

“We are helping those people who don’t have solutions. But we don’t have an across-the-board approach because the cases are unique, each one.”

Green said that as of Wednesday, medical travel workers had been in touch with 71 people “to determine benefits and eligibility.” She said the same in a lengthier statement to MLAs later in the day.

“Most individuals will have access to programs and resources outside the medical travel program,” Green said.

An hour before Green spoke, Bourassa said she was not aware of anyone in her support group reporting success receiving additional help with childcare.

“That’s not to say it hasn’t happened,” she stressed. “It’s just that I haven’t heard.”

If support is forthcoming, said Bourassa, it would be “absolutely huge” for the affected families and help to solve easily the most pressing need associated with the switch to Edmonton.

“It’s a huge, a huge need, and it would help the families feel much more comforted,” she said.

“And I think it’s a right, as well, for these children to have somewhere safe and to know a plan is in place for them.”

Emily Blake contributed reporting.