Gov't staff being redeployed to help deal with closure of Yellowknife shelters: N.W.T. health minister

·3 min read
Health Minister Julie Green picture in August 2021. She says the city is offering an arena that could possibly used as a day shelter space. (CBC photo - image credit)
Health Minister Julie Green picture in August 2021. She says the city is offering an arena that could possibly used as a day shelter space. (CBC photo - image credit)

As the N.W.T. government scrambles to bridge the hole left by the closure of Yellowknife's shelters due to COVID-19-related staffing shortfalls, Health and Social Services Minister Julie Green says the city is offering an arena as a possible day shelter space.

"The city has come forward with an offer of using one of the arenas and the Housing Corporation and [Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authority] will work with the city to see how we can stand up in the day shelter there," Green said on The Trailbreaker Monday morning.

The temporary closure of Yellowknife's day shelter was announced last week, followed by the announced shutdown of Yellowknife's combined day shelter and overnight sobering centre on the weekend. A number of staff have become infected with COVID-19 and multiple clients were exposed.

To accommodate a rush of people who may need a place to isolate, the N.W.T. government opened a new isolation centre at Yellowknife's Quality Inn and Suites. Green said the NWT Housing Corporation is now taking the lead on day sheltering.

No plan for staff illnesses

About 45 people were being accommodated in the isolation centres as of Saturday night, Green said.

The Salvation Army and the Yellowknife Women's Centre are operating as normal. However, with the sobering centre and other shelters closed, she said there remains a gap in services. Green says a big part of the problem comes down to space and staffing.

"The thing we couldn't have anticipated is that so many staff would become ill as well, that has really been the kick in the butt this time," Green said.

Green said staff getting sick wasn't totally factored into the territory's COVID-19 plan.

"Our plans, I guess, where they maybe could have been more robust is what happens if all the staff gets sick? I don't think that we had a plan for that," Green said.

Training for redeployed staff

Government employees have been asked to volunteer for redeployment, Green said, and as of Saturday over 40 people have done so, 15 of whom are willing to work in the isolation centre.

"I want to thank those people for coming forward and offering their assistance. It's critical at this point," Green said.

She said redeployed staff are going to help provide services to those who are sick or waiting for test results or are in self isolation.

"We're offering services like food, counselling, vaccinations, testing, and because we want people with addictions to stay in isolation, we are also providing a very small version of a managed alcohol program, so that people who are addicted to alcohol don't go into withdrawal."

Green said training will be provided to help redeployed staff understand trauma-informed practice as well as how to de-escalate conflicts. While she acknowledges it won't be the same as experts who've spent years in these fields, it may help to make sure that temporary staff are both safe and effective

At this point, Green says they likely have enough staff to be redeployed, but if the outbreak continues to "blow up at the pace that it has," the government may be at the point of issuing a public call for help, asking the city of Yellowknife and other partners, for assistance.

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