Stanton Territorial Hospital’s obstetrics unit will slowly begin resuming labour and delivery services next month, although those having their first child and Nunavut residents will still have to travel south to give birth until at least April.
Many northern families have been sent to Alberta to give birth since December 10, because the hospital in Yellowknife does not have enough staff to handle births. Currently, emergency services remain open for pre-term births and urgent prenatal assessments.
The NWT Health and Social Services Authority said the first phase of resuming services in the unit – from February 22 to March 31 – will include offering regular services for NWT residents who are expecting a second or subsequent child, and those scheduled for cesarean section.
“Generally, individuals who have already had a child require fewer pre-labour assessments, have quicker births and have a lower probability of in-labour complications,” a news release from the authority states, adding emergency birthing services will remain open.
The authority anticipates 35 individuals will be able to give birth in Yellowknife while 20 will be sent to Edmonton during the first phase of service resumption.
The change will not affect labour and delivery services in Inuvik, Hay River or Fort Smith.
The territorial government initially said birthings services at Stanton would be suspended until at least mid-February because too few staff were available as a result of a national nursing shortage and high demand across the country. Some employees at the hospital also told Cabin Radio staff kept leaving the unit because it was inadequately managed, which placed workers in dangerous and stressful situations.
The territory now says it has been “successful in staffing to date” but still lacks the resources to fully reopen the unit for planned births, especially as staff may be impacted by the current Covid-19 outbreak and required to isolate.
“With a smaller unit and team, staff absence can have a large impact on capacity and can vary unpredictably,” the news release says.
In December, the territorial government estimated sending families south to give birth could cost the NWT half a million dollars in hospital and physician fees. Health minister Julie Green said the entire birthing crisis was expected to cost $803,000.
It is unclear how continuing to send some families to Alberta over the next two months could add to that figure.