Unfilled cleaning contract behind nightmare isolation for Délı̨nę mom and newborn

Emails obtained by CBC News show that a mother and her newborn baby were forced to isolate in a home that didn't have basic amenities, because of a missed inspection and a government cleaning contract that didn't get filled.

House turned into isolation facility was not inspected or sanitized, records show

A mother said the government forced them to isolate in this three bedroom Yellowknife house after they were medevaced to Yellowknife due to COVID-19. The mother said the house did not have internet or phone connection. (Luke Carroll/CBC)

A missed inspection and a government cleaning contract that didn't get filled are why a mother and her newborn baby were forced to isolate in a dirty home that lacked basic amenities at the start of the year. 

The mother and child were medevaced from Délı̨nę to Yellowknife after getting COVID-19 in January. They were released from the hospital after a single night but had to isolate in Yellowknife before they could return home. 

An email, obtained by CBC News through an Access to Information and Protection of Privacy request (ATIPP), said the three-bedroom house where the pair stayed — which had been turned into an isolation facility — had been inspected on Jan. 8 before a different person moved in to isolate.

The email, written by Stewart Gibson, a manager of isolation centres with the territorial government, said the mother and child moved into the house the following day after the other occupant had been moved to a different location. 

"The unit was not cleaned or sanitized after the first occupant left, because there was no contract for a cleaner in place when the unit was occupied. The housing unit was cleaned on Jan. 11 when the cleaning contract was signed," the email said. 

The woman told CBC News she arrived at the unit to find cigarette ashes on a plate and dirty sheets on the bed. There was also no shower curtain, no toilet paper, no internet and no telephone. CBC News granted her anonymity to respect medical privacy.

Gibson also acknowledged that basic amenities were missing, like toiletries, towels, a dishwasher and a dryer. 

The woman and her newborn were eventually moved to the Old Town Log Cabins to finish their isolation. (Luke Carroll/ CBC)

The woman also said food that was dropped off was left outside the house, where it froze. 

While the territory was dealing with the fallout of the incident, Ariel Stuart, the North Slave Isolation Centre supervisor, sent an email to those delivering food on Jan. 12 saying they "MUST wait until the guest comes down and answers the door to ensure the food is received."

Once the issue was brought forward, the COVID Secretariat said action was taken to rectify the situation — including the delivery of toiletries and the cleaning of common areas in the house. 

"The COVID Secretariat apologizes for this oversight," said an email by Premier Caroline Cochrane, the elected official in charge of the COVID Secretariat.

The woman and newborn were eventually moved to the Old Town Log Cabins for their final days in isolation, which she said was a much better experience. 

Cabinet minister, MLA reached out to premier over isolation situation

Paulie Chinna, the N.W.T.'s housing minister and an MLA who represents the Sahtú — where the woman and newborn are from — emailed Cochrane about the situation. 

"In the time being a strategy needs to be implemented to making sure the units are available, sanitized and equipped in case of an emergency," she wrote. 

Paulie Chinna, the minister responsible for the housing corp and the MLA representing the Sahtu, reached out the premier about the mother and newborn's isolation issues. (Graham Shishkov/CBC)

Chinna said she'd been contacted as the minister responsible for the N.W.T. Housing Corporation and that the housing corporation "does not hold the responsibility for the COVID set-aside units."

Caitlin Cleveland, a Yellowknife MLA, told Cochrane and Julie Green, the territory's health minister, that the "current set up for isolation locations is unacceptable." 

"[Health and Social Services] is expected to provide safe and clean accommodations for N.W.T. residents," she wrote. "I would like to know how [Health and Social Services] will handle this and what changes will occur to properly serve N.W.T. residents who are following public health orders."

Nunavut government confused by Protect N.W.T.

Other emails acquired by CBC News through the ATIPP show the Government of Nunavut was, around the same time, confused by Protect NWT. 

According to those emails, the Government of Nunavut was using the Quality Inn in Yellowknife as an isolation hub. It had been declared an exposure site on Jan. 6. On Jan. 13, an employee with the Nunavut government said they were trying to determine if the Quality Inn was considered the site of an outbreak. 

Quality Inn and Suites in Yellowknife on Sept. 12, 2021. According to emails CBC News obtained from and Access to Information Request, the Quality Inn in Yellowknife was used as a isolation centre by the government of Nunavut. (Sidney Cohen/CBC)

The employee said they reached out to Protect NWT, who told them to contact public health, who in turn told them to contact Protect NWT. 

"I am at a loss of who to go to," the employee wrote.

"Once I realized that Protect NWT did not really know what to do or know the process," the employee said they contacted the Office of the Chief Public Health Officer and other health department members for information.