The chief operating officer of Stanton Territorial Hospital is leaving her job, the NWT’s health authority told staff this week.
Georgina Veldhorst has handed in her notice and will leave her role on June 30, staff were told by email. Recruitment of a replacement has begun.
Kim Riles, the health authority’s chief executive, said Veldhorst had been “strongly committed to ensuring staff and patient safety remained top of mind” during a tenure that spanned the Covid-19 pandemic.
Veldhorst had succeeded Riles as Stanton’s chief operating officer after Riles left the post in early 2020.
She “worked to support the complex task of addressing residual infrastructure issues with the new hospital, followed in quick succession by transition into pandemic response,” Riles wrote.
Veldhorst also faced a crisis in morale at Stanton Territorial Hospital.
In May 2021, nurses at the hospital said they faced “unfair and outlandish” treatment that required them to isolate after travel, under NWT pandemic rules, while locum workers in the same facility were able to work immediately after entering the territory.
In November last year, a broader group of nurses wrote to MLAs stating they felt unsupported by senior management and needed “fair compensation” for a hazardous pandemic work environment.
That same month, Stanton closed its obstetrics unit to all but emergency cases. For three months, expectant mothers were instead sent south to Edmonton. People with direct experience of Stanton’s obstetrics unit said staff kept leaving because the unit was inadequately managed, placing workers in dangerous and stressful situations.
Over the December holiday period, staffing levels dropped to the point where Stanton combined its emergency department, intensive care unit and emergency obstetrics unit on Christmas Eve because too few employees were available.
“There are things that are within our control to fix, and address, and there are other things that are not in our control. It is a very tough environment,” Veldhorst told Cabin Radio half a year ago as she set out her response to staff concerns.
“The challenge we have is that it is a very competitive market out there across the country. That healthcare workforce is exhausted.
“We used to have, you know… that gap in terms of the advantage of working in the North has decreased. And the workforce is exhausted and hospital work is challenging. And it’s a balance between meeting all those needs and being able to operate a hospital in a safe way.”
On Thursday this week, Riles told staff she thanked Veldhorst for her work and wished her the best.
In a written message included in the same email, Veldhorst stated: “I’d like to thank everyone for your support and commitment to our goal of providing the best care possible and achieving better health outcomes. It has been a privilege to work with so many of you on these efforts.
“As we faced the pandemic-related challenges over the past 2.5 years, I have seen so many people go above and beyond to support each other to better serve the residents of the NWT.
“It has been a pleasure to work with each of you and an honour to serve the people of the NWT.”
Sophie Kuijper Dickson contributed reporting.