Health changes dominate
MLA's public meeting

by Arthur Milnes
Northern News Services

FORT SIMPSON (Nov 14/97) - Only moments into his three-hour public meeting Thursday in Fort Simpson, Nahendeh MLA Jim Antoine learned that issues surrounding the changes to health care in the area are still tops on people's minds.

He was quickly asked to wade into a thorny issue that village Mayor Norm Prevost brought to the floor: have local health-care workers been forced to sign a gag order preventing them from discussing their concerns about health changes?

"Of course they should be allowed to speak," Antoine said. "I don't know of any gag order."

While a group of nurses were on hand for the meeting, they made no public comments while the issue was discussed.

However, again at the suggestion of Prevost, health-centre staff were invited to attend a closed-door meeting with Antoine the next morning. While sources confirmed the meeting did occur, it could not be determined what resulted from it and how many participants there might have been.

For her part, Deh Cho Health and Social Services executive director Kathy Tsetso said suggestions that staff had recently been forced to sign a gag order were simply false.

Instead, she said, workers had to sign the same agreement -- concerning patient confidentiality and other issues -- that was in place before the new service was put in place.

"We had our employees sign a confidentiality agreement the same as (the previous board)," she said. "We're working on all our policies.... It's client confidentiality and that goes all the way to the cleric who types in your information."

"Staff have other avenues if they don't like management decisions. They can go through management or they can go to the union."

As of press time, a copy of the agreement wasn't able to be obtained.

Throughout the meeting Prevost continued his public attacks on the GNWT's Department of Health for the way the switchover from hospital to health centre in Fort Simpson has been accomplished.

"We have a serious problem here with communications between the department and the minister," he said. "I see nothing short of opening that hospital back up again and putting those (long-term patients moved to the seniors home during renovations) back where they belong."

"I think we should stop everything (and) go back to where we were until a plan is put in place."

Antoine said he would bring the concerns he heard to the attention of the minister and local DCHS officials.

"I don't have all the answers," he said. "There needs to be some communication," he said. "It's said there is no plan but there is and it needs to be better communicated."

Other issues raised at the meeting, which drew about 30 people, include division, the Aurora Fund, aboriginal health issues and a possible Deh Cho-wide meeting of leaders in the new year.