Oxygen supply problems add to COVID-19 challenges at Stanton Territorial Hospital

As a "surge" of patients arrive at Stanton Territorial Hospital in need in oxygen, the territory’s health authority is discovering limitations in how it can be supplied in the new hospital. 

Health-care staff have learned that the new hospital's oxygen system limits the supply to each zone

Scott Robertson, executive co-lead of the Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authority COVID-19 operations, took a question about oxygen supply at the hospital in a news briefing Wednesday. He said details would soon be released. (Submitted by Scott Robertson)

Doctors and nurses in Yellowknife are finding yet another issue at the new Stanton Territorial Hospital, and at the worst possible time. 

"The current surge in hospitalized COVID-19 patients has identified an infrastructure limitation related to the oxygen system in Stanton Territorial Hospital," reads a news release from the N.W.T. Health and Social Services Authority (NTHSSA).

The issue, the release says, "centres around the distribution system for oxygen within the hospital and limits on the total volume of oxygen that can be delivered in each zone of the building at one time."

Stanton Territorial Hospital has been plagued with problems since it opened in May of 2019 including mould, water leaks and birthing tubs that couldn't be used. 

The pristine emergency room station at Stanton Territorial Hospital shortly before it opened. (Walter Strong/CBC)

Health-care resources in the territory are already stretched thin. 

On Wednesday, the territory's chief public health officer said 23 people have been hospitalized, including nine who were admitted to the ICU, though it's unclear what timeframe those numbers cover. 

The N.W.T. currently has the highest COVID-19 case rate per capita in the country. 

Services still available

The health authority emphasised that acute care is still available at Stanton, whether for COVID-19 or otherwise.

They say the notice is a precaution "to let residents know there may be further impacts should case counts increase and in turn put demands on our acute care services, and as a reminder to residents to follow public health guidance, and to get vaccinated, to prevent hospitalizations in the first place."

Stanton has taken a few measures in response to the issue, including cancelling surgeries on Tuesday morning and moving patients from the ICU to another zone in the hospital.

They are now seeking alternatives, including using bedside oxygen tanks, while working with Alberta Health Services, and the N.W.T.'s Department of Infrastructure, on solutions. 

Oxygen essential for treatment

Oxygen is a crucial part of COVID-19 treatment, the release notes. 

It says that medical practitioners have moved away from intubation and mechanical ventilation to the use of less invasive oxygen devices, which use upwards of four times the oxygen flow of a ventilator. 

Early assessments of hospital capacity did not take this into account, and the health authority said it's reaching out to other jurisdictions facing similar issues. 

However, some of those jurisdictions may not be well-positioned to help. The release notes the "strain that the Alberta health system," which the N.W.T. relies on, continues to face. 

"Now more than ever, NTHSSA asks residents to continue to work together to protect our limited health system capacity by following the guidance provided by the Chief Public Health Officer — wear a mask, limit gathering, get tested if you are symptomatic, and most of all, please get vaccinated if you have not already done so."


  • An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Scott Robertson as a medical doctor. In fact, he is a registered nurse.
    Sep 23, 2021 9:32 AM CT

With files from Sidney Cohen


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