Making the grade
NWT health care unique, minister says

Glen Vienneau
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Aug 28/00) - The territorial government hopes to put a Northern twist on strings attached to additional health care funding.

Jane Groenewegen

NWT health minister Jane Groenewegen said while Ottawa is offering to increase health care transfers, the additional money would come with strict guidelines that may not be applicable to the North.

"We have our concerns about the value of some of the statistics (used by the federal government) because we are so different," said Groenewegen.

At stake is an additional $1.36 million to $4 million in extra health care dollars for the NWT.

In offering to restore health care transfers that were cut in 1993-94, the federal government has suggested a monitoring process that will govern how much the territories and provinces receive.

The federal proposal is basically a report card on progress in the delivery of health care. It is to monitor issues such health care access and waiting periods, Groenewegen explained.

Although she has no objections in taking part in the report, she said the federal government must take into account the unique conditions experienced in the North.

That includes conditions such as physician and nursing shortages, especially for nursing stations in the far North, and the small population and isolation of small communities throughout the territory.

"Primarily, we are interested in being accountable to our own people first," said Groenewegen.

Another concern is the impact on funding when Northern patients go south for medical services not available in the NWT.

She's worried that may reduce the grade given the territory and result in less funding.

If the extra funds do come in effect, it may go towards hiring health care workers and creating innovative health reforms, she said.

But, she hopes the federal government also gives the territory and province the flexibility to determine where to spend those funds.

She is hopeful the NWT receive the extra funding before the beginning of the new fiscal year on April 1.

The ministers and deputy ministers are expected to meet again in September for a final round of negotiations with federal health minister Allan Rock. The meeting is expected to involve Prime Minister Jean Chretien.

"Hopefully, by that time it will be concluded. The sooner the better for us," said Groenewegen.