Relatives of a Délı̨nę woman isolated in Yellowknife with her newborn baby say the standard of accommodation provided by the government during medical trips is unacceptable.
Christal Doherty says her sister – who asked not to be named – and her baby were medically evacuated to Yellowknife earlier this month after both testing positive for Covid-19, to ensure proper medical care at the new born.
When they were released from the hospital the next day, they had to self-isolate in Yellowknife for several days.
The couple were taken to a three-bedroom house in the city used by the territorial government to house people in medical isolation. As previously reported by CBC, when Doherty’s sister arrived she found the house to be in a sorry state: there were cigarette ashes on a plate, dirty sheets on the bed and no shower curtain, toilet paper, internet, telephone or TV connection. .
“She just didn’t feel comfortable,” Doherty said. “She was upset, she wanted to go somewhere else. She didn’t feel safe after she was also told that other people were going to stay with her and her baby is sick, so she doesn’t want to expose the baby to other illnesses.
The Government of the Northwest Territories Covid-19 Secretariat said Cabin Radio amenities provided to those in isolation depend on location but generally include towels, toiletries, cooking utensils, cooking supplies laundry and meals, as well as cable, internet, and phone services when possible.
The Secretariat did not respond to questions about the status of the medical isolation home in this case.
Doherty said her family have since tried to find more suitable accommodation for her sister, but there are few alternatives.
Other options they have been offered include the Northern Lites Motel, which they have been told is full, or Aspen Apartments, which is being used as an isolation space for homeless people who have tested positive for Covid-19.
Doherty said neither option is suitable for a mother and her newborn.
The family also considered paying out of pocket for a hotel room. When they contacted the Explorer Hotel and Chateau Nova, however, they were told that the designated isolation centers could not accept people who tested positive for Covid-19.
Doherty said her sister also could not self-isolate with her family in Yellowknife due to fears of contracting Covid-19.
“Those are the only options she has and so she’s being held there, I feel, against her will,” Doherty said of the medical isolation home.
“I am really upset and frustrated that she is still in the same situation.”
The Covid-19 Secretariat said it is working to “secure units as needed” for medical isolation and spaces provided are based on availability. In Yellowknife, the Northern Lites Motel and various Northwest Territories Housing Corporation accommodations are among those used.
The Secretariat said the Explorer Hotel and Chateau Nova, meanwhile, “present challenges” when it comes to medical isolation.
“Our experience with the outbreak in Yellowknife in the fall demonstrated that lodging people infected with Covid-19 poses a risk to other hotel users and our staff,” a spokesperson wrote in an email.
“The Omicron variant would be four times more infectious than the Delta variant, putting others at even greater risk of acquiring infection if these locations were used to house people infected with Covid-19.”
Doherty, who lives in Yellowknife, said she was able to drop off food, water and cleaning supplies for her sister. The territorial government dropped off items like a shower curtain and said it plans to install a telephone. But the house still lacks amenities like clean sheets, Doherty said, and her sister had to clean up the mess left by previous occupants while she was sick.
“She was mentally exhausted. She just feels hopeless,” Doherty said.
Doherty said she wanted her sister to be placed in more suitable accommodation that was clean, safe and had the proper amenities.
She said she’s worried about the conditions other people in small communities might face on a medical trip if they don’t have family members in Yellowknife to advocate for them – or access to a phone.
“It’s heartbreaking to know that people will come here without any help,” she said. “I just don’t want this to happen to another person.”