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Could obstetrics be next?

Staff shortage hits another ward being closed at Stanton Territorial Hospital

Chris Puglia
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Aug 23/02) - Stanton Territorial Hospital's obstetrics unit is the latest flashpoint in the staff shortage crisis.

Service reduction in the unit was one of the options discussed during a meeting held Wednesday afternoon between doctors, nurses and senior management.

Currently there is one staff vacancy and two more are pending.

Normally, the 15-bed unit has a staff of 13.

Stanton CEO Dennis Cleaver said they're concerned the hospital will be unable to recruit adequate staff.

"We have concerns given the number of vacancies, our staffing problem and the one throughout the system," said Cleaver.

"If we're able to continue with all of the services we will. If not, we will look at other options."

Those other options could see additional patients being sent south for care.

A shortage of nurses led to the closure of Stanton's intensive care unit in June, leading to patients needing intensive care being sent to southern facilities.

Hospital officials had hoped to re-open the ICU in early September, but because of difficulty recruiting staff, no date has been set for the four-bed unit to re-open.

"(Medevacing obstetrics patients south) is a possibility. That is one of the things we have to get a clear understanding for," said Cleaver. "It's a serious issue."

Cleaver added he is confident the NWT's medevac system could cope with the number of obstetrics patients who would have to be flown south.

"We're pretty well resourced," he said.

Medflight director Pat O'Connor said she, too, isn't worried about the possibility of more patients being flown south.

"It's hard to tell what kinds of volumes we will get from it because we do a lot of obstetrics already," she said.

Medflight has experienced one of its busiest summers ever.

They carried 98 patients in June and 69 in July.

O'Connor said Medflight has been made aware of the possibility they will be flying more patients. The company is currently discussing bringing its third aircraft to full-time status. It's now used as a backup.