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Healthcare services cutback to manage Yellowknife COVID-19 situation

Non-urgent healthcare appointments are being cancelled, as the GNWT diverts resources to managing the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak.

“We’re approaching a pivotal moment in the territorial healthcare system’s ability to respond to COVID-19 outbreaks,” said Julie Green, Minister of Health and Social Services.

Green said without swift action, the system and healthcare workers could become overburdened.

Urgent appointments will continue — including cancer surgeries — with most other appointments being cancelled, moved virtual or put on a call back list.

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Elective surgeries and pulmonary function testing appointments are being cancelled, with pre-natal appointments changed to a reduced schedule.

Cancellations will be tracked and put on a callback list. Primary care clinics should be the first place residents go for acute care needs that aren’t emergencies, according to the Health and Social Service Authority’s website.

A full list of the service cutbacks can be found here.

“Our healthcare system is not overwhelmed, but is nevertheless on a critical precipice,” said Kim Riles, chief executive of the NWT’s health authority.

The number of intensive care (ICU) beds at Stanton Territorial Hospital is being upped from four to six. 

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On August 9 the hospital had to cut back its number of intensive care beds from four to two — the other two beds were downgraded to 2 lower acuity beds — due to staffing shortfalls.

Riles said the hospital has capacity to increase the number of ICU beds beyond six, but staffing would be the limiting factor.

All these changes come as a COVID-19 outbreak has been declared amongst the underhoused and vulnerable population in Yellowknife.  

There have been 24 new cases of COVID-19 in the NWT since September 3, increasing the total number of cases related to the Sahtu outbreak to 395.

But NWT’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Kami Kandola says the outbreak in the Sahtu region has now been managed and hopes that the same can be achieved in Yellowknife, Behchokǫ̀, Ndilǫ and Dettah if residents there “make the same sacrifices.”

Nineteen of the new cases are in Yellowknife, bringing the total number of active cases in the city to 64.

Riles added the Health and Social Services Authority is in contact with the Alberta government and that NWT residents remain at the same priority level, although some non-urgent appointments are being cancelled.

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Staff shortages and high demand for services during the pandemic has been putting added stress on healthcare workers for a while now, according to Todd Parsons, UNW President.

But in a statement, Parsons said he welcomed the changes made to healthcare services.

“The UNW has confidence in our CPHO to make the tough decisions required to keep us all safe, and we fully supports the orders and recommendations being enacted to stop the spread of Covid-19 in our communities,” he said in a statement.

Gathering restrictions

New restrictions on gatherings will be in place for Yellowknife, Behchokǫ̀, Ndilǫ and Dettah starting at 5 p.m. today.

Since mid-August, the Office of the Chief Public Health Officer confirms that 19 people who accessed shelters have been infected with COVID-19.  

The GNWT announced the restrictions, which are set to last for 14 days, today in a press conference, as cutbacks to a number of healthcare services were also announced.

Kindergarten, daycares, and schools and colleges are exempt from the order and will follow their existing plans.

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