Structural issues at the $350 million Stanton Territorial Hospital– such as leaks, overflowing toilets and cold inside temperatures — have all been addressed, NWT Health and Social Services Authority officials said this week.
However, concerns raised over staffing shortages during last summer’s Union of Northern Workers’ Worried but Working campaign — especially among specialized nurses like those working in obstetrics, the emergency department and operating rooms — remain an issue, a presentation to MLAs heard Tuesday at the legislative assembly.
Kim Riles, the hospital’s chief operating officer, said recent hires — including nurses hired as casual workers — have helped reduce the amount of overtime.
Though the long-term goal is to recruit more permanent long term residents, she said.
“We continue to make every effort we possibly can to attract and recruit staff in those areas, it remains challenging,” said Riles, adding she “can’t say enough” to praise the healthcare staff at the hospital.
The nursing vacancy rate is about 10.3 per cent, down from 13 per cent in July, she said.
As for complaints over failings of some of the building’s systems, Dexterra — a contractor that acts as the building’s manager — “clearly underestimated in terms of staffing, resourcing, training and deployment,” said Riles.
The contractor receives an estimated $1.8 million in public money every month for managing the hospital. That amount also includes a debt repayment to Boreal Health Partnership, a consortium that partnered with Dexterra, which put up a portion of the $350 million used to pay for the hospital.
The Territorial government has exacted about $500,000 in penalties from the contractors as of December for the shortcomings.
In response to cleanliness issues such as lengthy intervals between changing bed linens and clearing patient areas, Dexterra has hired several more housekeepers, Riles said.
The reason for that offered at Tuesday’s briefing, is in December and January, the building sucked in cold air as it exterior metal doors frosted over. The HVAC issues were addressed and a heater placed in the emergency department entrance. The sequencing of the sliding doors was also adjusted.
Further work will take place this spring. Steps expected to be taken include installing two water pumps to address low water pressure.
Tuesday’s presentation also detailed efforts to fix some 35 water leaks and address other matters like the root causes of overflowing toilets.
Dexterra handles cost of these repairs, said Gloria Badari, executive director of Stanton Hospital Renewal, the team tasked with transitioning to the new building from the legacy building.
Meanwhile, Monfwi MLA Jackson Lafferty said offering of traditional foods to Indigenous patients should be a priority.
On a recent visit to the hospital, he said patients reported eating chicken every day, which was monotonous. This followed other concerns that the texture of food served to patients could potentially lead to choking.
The Health Authority said a dietitian has been hired, who is working with any staff who prepare food for patients.
After the briefing, David Maguire, a spokesperson for the Health Authority, expressed frustration over the “pretty negative” media coverage of the hospital.
He argued that reporting has overlooked positive elements of the hospital, affecting the authority’s ability to recruit candidates.
To be able attract people to the NWT, “we want them to know it isn’t all doom and gloom,” he said.
“Stanton is a great place to work. I think a lot of people agree with that, but you don’t hear from them.”