Stanton Territorial Hospital is not facing any more ward closures following the closure of its obstetrics unit.

Health and Social Services Minister Julie Green confirmed that no more closures were expected in response to questions during a sitting of the Legislative Assembly on Thursday, Nov. 25.

The member for Great Slave Katrina Nokleby, who asked about the possible closure of other units, also wanted to know why job openings for midwives were not posted and filled earlier: During her member statement, Nokleby said that of the four new positions that were created for midwives at Stanton earlier this year, only two had been posted as of Nov. 15 despite additional funding to expand obstetrics services across the NWT.

On Monday, the Health and Social Services Authority announced that nearly all parents expecting to give birth at the Yellowknife hospital between Dec. 10 and Feb. 21 would instead be transferred to Edmonton.

Green answered that, because midwives are usually not qualified as obstetric nurses, if the Department had posted and filled the positions earlier, “we would still be in the same jam we are today with the shortage of obstetric nurses.”

Nokleby asked what the Authority would do to ease the burden on parents who had to travel to Edmonton. She raised the possibility of matching donations from nonprofits like the Northern Birthwork Collective.

Green responded that the Authority would have more details on accommodations once the needs of expectant parents are better understood. “There have been no discussions about private fundraising or matching the (Northern Birthwork Collective’s) initiative, although I do appreciate that it’s happening,” she said.

She said further discussions would be needed between the departments of health and finance and the nurses’ union to decide if hiring and retention bonuses could be honoured immediately.

Green’s reassurance comes after the nurses’ union warned similar closures could be coming to other units: The local 11 President of the Union of Northern Workers, Tina Drew, told NNSL Media that the low morale and burnout that led to an obstetrics staffing shortage could spread to other departments.

During her own opening statement, Kam Lake MLA Caitlin Cleveland recited complaints from nurses working at Stanton obstetrics: These included a refusal to hire a fourth nurse due to low birth rates (the UNW says there should be four), being denied mandatory courses for certifications, routine denial of vacation time, and a lack of family-friendly part-time positions.

“We were treated like we were replaceable, so we left, and now no one can replace us,” said Cleveland, quoting one nurse.

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