N.W.T. nurses asked to redeploy to Yellowknife hospital after COVID-19 exposure

The Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authority is asking nurses in the territory to consider doing overtime at Stanton Territorial Hospital as it grapples with a staff shortage due to a COVID-19 exposure.

N.W.T. health authority asks nurses from elsewhere in N.W.T. to help out at Stanton Territorial Hospital

A spokesperson for the Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authority said the exposure-related shortage hasn’t affected service levels in Stanton Territorial Hospital's emergency department. (Sara Minogue/CBC)

A COVID-19 exposure at the hospital in Yellowknife had the territorial health authority marshaling nurses from outside the hospital — and the city — this week to cover for staff who are isolating.

According to a Thursday email from the Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authority, obtained by CBC News, Stanton Territorial Hospital in Yellowknife is experiencing a "significant staffing shortage related to illness and vacancies." 

The health authority verified the internal email's authenticity.

The email says there will be "urgent needs" in the emergency department and ICU for the next seven to 10 days, and possibly longer. 

It asks registered nurses in Yellowknife and beyond to consider redeploying to Stanton for overtime on scheduled days off. It says the health authority would apply duty travel for nurses who come in from other N.W.T. communities.   

In a statement, a health authority spokesperson said the exposure-related shortage hasn't affected service levels at the hospital.

They said that as of Friday, staffing levels in the emergency department were stabilizing and that it's "unlikely that any [N.W.T. health authority] staff will need to be redeployed."

The spokesperson also said the health authority would redeploy nurses from other communities only if their absences wouldn't affect service levels in the communities they come from.

Redeployment a 'key strategy' during pandemic

Since the onset of the pandemic, the redeployment of staff has been a "key strategy" for addressing COVID-19's impact on the health system, said the spokesperson.

They said last year nurses from other regions were temporarily transferred to Yellowknife to help with public health's outbreak response. 

The spokesperson said the health authority takes "all available measures" to prevent COVID-19 exposures in its workplaces. This includes a mask requirement in all clinical settings.

Nurse and doctor shortages have been a persistent issue in the territory over the last year. 

The Hay River Health and Social Services Authority said last week it was preparing for six months of an "unprecedented" staff shortage

Last summer a shortage of nurses led Stanton to cut intensive care capacity, and this past winter a similar shortage forced the hospital to suspend birthing services for more than two months.

A spokesperson for Health and Social Services Minister Julie Green declined CBC's request for an interview, saying the health authority was best to speak to the issue of staff shortages at Stanton.