Some birthing services return to Stanton Territorial Hospital Feb. 22

The N.W.T. Government is preparing to return some birthing services for parents who are giving birth to their second or subsequent child. Nunavummiut and first-time parents will be sent to Alberta until at least April.

35 people will give birth in Yellowknife, first-time parents, Nunavummiut still going to Alberta

Stanton Territorial Hospital in Yellowknife on Aug. 21, 2021. Labour and delivery services the hospital were transferred to Edmonton in Nov. 2021 due to a labour shortage. The territory will begin phasing those services back in starting Feb. 22. (Liny Lamberink/CBC)

The N.W.T. government is preparing to slowly restore birthing services at Yellowknife's Stanton Territorial Hospital, after a labour shortage forced health authorities to transfer three months' of baby deliveries to Edmonton this fall. 

N.W.T. residents having their second or a subsequent child, or who are scheduled for a caesarean section between Feb. 22, and Mar. 31 will be able to give birth at Stanton.

People who are giving birth to their first child or who live in Nunavut but would normally give birth in Yellowknife, will still go to Edmonton.

This is because people who have given birth once generally "require fewer pre-labour assessments, have quicker births and have a lower probability of in-labour complications," the health authority said in a press release.

The Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authority (NTHSSA) estimates that 35 individuals will give birth at Stanton and 20 will be transferred to Edmonton between Feb. 22 and Mar. 31. 

On Thursday, NTHSSA started notifying patients affected by the return of delivery services and is prioritizing people by their due dates. 

Stanton will provide emergency services for unexpected or emergency situations, the authority wrote. 

How did we get here? 

In November, the health authority said there were not enough staff, especially nurses, on the birthing unit at Stanton Territorial.

The authority told roughly 120 people who had planned to give birth in the territory between Dec. 10 and Feb. 21 that they would be transferred to Alberta. 

Parents learned there would be few financial supports to bring their children with them — many scrambled to find adequate child care for the indeterminate time they would spend in Edmonton.

Nunavummiut, who already travel away from their homes and families to deliver their babies, were also affected by the birthing unit's closure, as parents from the Kitikmeot region normally give birth in Yellowknife.

In response to the more than 100 unplanned birth evacuations, a collective of birth workers crowdsourced funding, child care and birth workers that could support N.W.T. and Nunavut residents during their time down south.

Rebuilding after labour shortage

The nursing shortage was built up over months of N.W.T. nurses being forced to use sick and special leave, the president of Local 11 of the Union of Northern Workers, Tina Drew, told CBC in November. 

Job postings for nurses describe generous leave policies, but short staffing meant staff were routinely denied leave included in their contracts despite being burnt out from labouring throughout the pandemic, Drew said.

The government also lost two obstetrics nurses over inflexible work arrangements.

To fill the gaps, the health authority brought up locum nurses. 

The CBC requested information from the health authority about how much it spent hiring locum nurses.

The health authority did not respond to CBC's request for more information by end of day Thursday. 

In a press release, the authority said Stanton needs nurses with specialized training and skills in labour, delivery and obstetrics on two shifts each day.

They need three nurses for both shifts to meet the standard of care, which involves one-to-one nurse to patient ratios during active labour and delivery.