Elective surgeries on hold because of oxygen problem at Stanton Territorial Hospital

N.W.T.'s health authority says it's contacted the federal government for help, and the contractor who installed the infrastructure is doing a site visit.

Surgeries had been briefly cancelled earlier in the week to assess the problem

Most elective surgeries and non-urgent procedures are being cancelled at Stanton Territorial Hospital for a week, as the facility deals with an oxygen supply problem that was first identified on Sept. 21. (Liny Lamberink/CBC)

Most elective surgeries and non-urgent procedures at Stanton Territorial Hospital in Yellowknife are being cancelled until Oct. 1 as the facility continues to struggle with an oxygen supply problem, according to the N.W.T. Health and Social Services Authority (NTHSSA).

In a public notice issued Saturday morning, the health authority said non-essential physiotherapy, occupational therapy and speech language appointments would also be cancelled for the rest of the month, and that exercise stress tests would continue to be booked only for urgent needs. 

People who are impacted by the changes will be contacted directly, it said. 

Officials announced on Wednesday they'd identified an infrastructure limitation at the hospital — which restricts the amount of oxygen that can be delivered in each zone of the building at one time. 

The health authority said it had cancelled surgeries on Tuesday morning so the problem could be assessed. The following day, surgeries resumed, with a warning that further cancellations could be necessary. 

The oxygen supply problem is one of several issues the building has had since it opened in May of 2019, including mould, water leaks and birthing tubs that couldn't be used. And it comes at a time when oxygen is crucially needed as part of treatment for COVID-19 cases. 

Thirty people have been hospitalized since the pandemic began, public health officials said in their latest update on Friday, 26 of which are associated with a current outbreak of the delta variant.

On Saturday, the NTHSSA said it had worked remotely with the contractor who installed the oxygen infrastructure and that technicians would be visiting the site over the weekend. It also said it was turning to the federal government for help.

"Discussions regarding federal support have indicated potential equipment availability that will add capacity for oxygen at Stanton," it said. "Assessment is ongoing to confirm this and plan how it may be implemented to address this issue." 

The authority said it has been working with the territory's infrastructure department and Dexterra (a facility management provider) to understand oxygen delivery capacity limits and how it impacts care the hospital can provide amid the pandemic. 

It has also created a secondary ICU site, prepared for the use of bedside oxygen tanks, and examined further oxygen generation and distribution options.