Relatives of a Délı̨nę woman isolating in Yellowknife with her newborn baby say the standard of government-provided accommodation during medical travel is unacceptable.
Christal Doherty says her sister – who asked not to be named – and her baby were medevaced to Yellowknife earlier this month after they both tested positive for Covid-19, to ensure proper medical care for the newborn.
When they were both released from the hospital the next day, they were required to isolate in Yellowknife for several days.
The pair were taken to a three-bedroom home in the city used by the territorial government to house people in medical isolation. As previously reported by CBC, when Doherty’s sister arrived, she found the home was in a sorry state: there were cigarette ashes on a plate, dirty sheets on the bed, and no shower curtain, toilet paper, internet, phone, or TV connection.
“She just didn’t feel comfortable,” Doherty said. “She was upset, she wanted to go somewhere else. She didn’t feel safe after she was also told that other people will be staying there with her, and her baby is sick, so she doesn’t want to expose the baby to other illnesses.”
The NWT government’s Covid-19 Secretariat told Cabin Radio amenities provided for people in isolation depend on the location but usually include towels, toiletries, kitchen tools, laundry supplies, and meals, as well as cable, internet, and phone services when possible.
The secretariat did not respond to questions about the state of the medical isolation home in this case.
Doherty said her family has since tried to find more suitable accommodation for her sister but there are limited alternatives.
Other options they were given include the Northern Lites Motel, which they were told was full, or Aspen Apartments, which is being used as an isolation space for people experiencing homelessness who have tested positive for Covid-19.
Doherty said neither option is suitable for a mother and her newborn.
The family also considered paying out of pocket for a hotel room. When they reached out to the Explorer Hotel and Chateau Nova, however, they were told the designated isolation centres cannot accept people who have tested positive for Covid-19.
Doherty said her sister also cannot isolate with family in Yellowknife due to concerns about contracting Covid-19.
“These are the only options she has and so she’s held there, I feel like, against her will,” Doherty said of the medical isolation house.
“I’m just really upset and frustrated that she’s still in the same situation.”
The Covid-19 Secretariat said it is working to “secure units as needed” for medical isolation and the spaces provided are based on availability. In Yellowknife, the Northern Lites Motel and various NWT Housing Corporation units are among those used.
The secretariat said the Explorer Hotel and Chateau Nova, meanwhile, “present challenges” when it comes to medical isolation.
“Our experience with the outbreak in Yellowknife in the fall demonstrated that hosting individuals with a Covid-19 infection posed a risk to other hotel users and our staff,” a spokesperson wrote in an email.
“The Omicron variant is said to be four times more infectious than the Delta variant, which would put others at even greater risk of acquiring an infection if those locations were used to house individuals with Covid-19 infections.”
Doherty, who lives in Yellowknife, said she has been able to drop off food, water, and cleaning supplies for her sister. The territorial government has dropped off items like a shower curtain and indicated it plans to install a phone. But the home is still missing amenities like clean bed sheets, Doherty said, and her sister has had to clean the mess left by the previous occupants while she is sick.
“She’s been mentally drained. She just feels hopeless,” said Doherty.
Doherty told Cabin Radio on Friday morning that her sister had been moved to a more appropriate location on Thursday, following help from politicians and local media.
She said she worries about the conditions other people from smaller communities may face while on medical travel if they don’t have family members in Yellowknife to advocate for them – or access to a phone.
“It’s heartbreaking to know that people will be coming here with absolutely no help,” she said. “I just want for that not to happen to another person.”