Minister acknowledges 'growing pains' at grand opening of Stanton Territorial Hospital

'I’ve received probably more pictures of food than I ever thought I would receive in my entire life,' said Health and Social Services Minister Glen Abernethy on Friday.

Nursing shortage, concerns about quality of food and janitorial service 'challenges’ at new facility

Northwest Territories health minister Glen Abernethy says his department is working with Stanton's contractor to improve the janitorial and food services at the hospital. (Alex Brockman/CBC)

As the N.W.T. government celebrated the grand opening of the territory's new hospital Friday, health minister Glen Abenerthy acknowledged challenges staff have faced since the facility opened its doors in late May.

"I've received probably more pictures of food than I ever thought I would receive in my entire life," he said. 

"There were some real concerns about food quality [and], there were concerns about cleanliness."

Abernethy said the hospital is working with the health department, finance department and Dexterra — the contractor operating food and custodial services at the facility — to fix these problems.

He said Dexterra sent a team up earlier this summer to address the issues, which has helped.

"It's not exactly where we want to be yet, but we have seen improvements," said Abernethy.

The emergency room central nursing station in the new hospital provides for more space and line of sight than in the old hospital. Near the emergency area is a wall with the plumbing to hook up an MRI, if the territorial government decides to invest in one. (Walter Strong/CBC)

The $350-million hospital was built as a public-private partnership, which means the territorial government financed the project, but it was built by a private partner, Carillion Canada.

Carillion filed for creditor protection in 2018, and Dexterra became the new partner in the Stanton hospital project, which means it now operates and maintains the facility.

The hospital began accepting patients on May 26. It was on time and on budget, said Abernethy.

Since that date, it has been a focus of concern over nursing shortages.

The new Stanton Territorial Hospital opened for business May 26. (Walter Strong/CBC)

CBC recently reported that nurses say they are being overworked to the point where they are concerned about patient safety.

Abernethy said the new facility came with 45 new positions and is currently running with a 13 per cent of vacancy rate.

"That changes literally every day," he said. 

"We are making offers every day, every day people are accepting new jobs, every day some people are leaving, so it's a constantly evolving target."

Abernethy said his department has been working with the Department of Human Resources to streamline the hiring process, and the department has been recruiting people from across the country.

He said the department is also working with the Registered Nurses Association of the Northwest Territories to streamline the licensing process, so nurses hired from out of territory can start work as quickly as possible. 

"Finding nurses and other health professionals is a national problem, as well," said Abernethy. "So it's a tough fight everywhere."

Ready for MRI hookup

The health minister said there is room to grow — literally — in all areas of the hospital. There is a wall with the plumbing to allow for the hookup of an MRI machine when, or if, the territorial government eventually invests in one. 

As well, the building has been built specifically in anticipation for expansion.

"There are portions of this building today that aren't finished intentionally because there weren't services to put in them," he said.

"As we get new technologies, as new concepts make themselves available, we'll have the ability to grow into this new building … which we didn't have at the old [Stanton hospital] building.

Written by Randi Beers, based on an interview by Hilary Bird


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