Community based board flys
Yellowknife Health and Social Services moves into new era

Dane Gibson
Northern News Services

NNSL (Mar 31/99) - Overwhelming optimism is what Al Woods feels, even though much of the decision-making power he previously held is now under the control of the Yellowknife Health and Social Services board.

The board CEO's enthusiasm stems from the fact that the people his organization serves will now have a strong voice in what services are provided and how they are delivered.

At a March 24 public meeting, nine new board members were applauded by Minister of Health and Social Services, Kelvin Ng, deputy minister Penny Ballantyne, Yellowknife mayor Dave Lovell and members of the public.

The event marked the official launch of the Yellowknife Health and Social Services Board, which will be responsible for setting the policies for all health and social services programs.

"This board will make a real difference in the way health and social services programs are delivered in Yellowknife, Dettah and Ndilo," Woods said Thursday.

"For the clients who have been accessing our services, they can rest assured that the new board will improve programs in the communities."

He said prior to the establishment of the board, communities had nowhere to give public input.

"The board can provide leadership and they can set the goals we want to accomplish, according to what's important to the communities," Woods said.

"They evaluate how we're doing and monitor the outcome of our programs. Establishing outcome measures will ensure we're making a difference with our clients."

Board goals include coordinating services and reducing program overlap, monitoring the effectiveness of programs and improving the wellness of those who require assistance.

"If we find we're not making a difference in one area, then resources can be re-allocated to other areas where we are improving the clients wellness," Woods said.

The foster child program is an excellent example of how, with board direction, they can take a pro-active approach. Currently, there are 130 kids in foster care and group homes, each costing a minimum of $25 a day.

"Ideally, we want to get those children back into their families but we can't do that until the home environment we're returning them to is safe," Woods said.

"The board can say they want us to work closer with families, they can focus us to make sure we can offer parents courses in parenting skills and relationship training." Board chair Ruth Spence said if they find there's a need for a new service, they will lobby the government to get it. That means Yellowknife Health and Social Services can focus strictly on operations.

Home care, public health, health promotion, and child protection all fall under the board's control, which they will manage with an annual budget of $12 million. That money comes from the GNWT, which may become an issue down the road.

"It's a very exciting thing and it's a very frightening thing to be taking over. It's a big responsibility because there are a lot of social problems in this town," Spence said.

"We as a board will be expected to carry on programs but the purse strings are controlled by the GNWT. If they say there's no more money for a program, then it's up to the board to either find the funds or cancel the program."