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Health department proposes superboard
Residents asked to provide feedback on plan

Kassina Ryder
Northern News Services
Published Monday, August 25, 2014

Some leaders in the Northwest Territories say the idea to move to a single health board in the territory might help improve the health care system.

Health Minister Glen Abernethy released a discussion paper on the proposal last week. The department is aiming to combine the NWT's eight health authorities into one authority for the entire territory.

Regional authorities would be replaced with wellness councils, which would advise the NWT Health and Social Services Leadership Council (NWT HSSLC), which would act as a management board for the territory's health services.

"By having the chairs of regional wellness councils sitting as members of the council, every region in the NWT will gain a voice in the design and delivery of territorial programs and services," the paper states.

Abernethy said the new structure will mean budgeting and other responsibilities will fall under the jurisdiction of the territorial board, allowing wellness council members to advise on issues important to residents, such as medical travel policy.

"We need to keep that regional voice alive," he said. "Regional wellness councils will do many of the same things that regional authorities do now, with focus on program delivery."

As it stands, each regional health authority operates with its own financial system, strategic plan and records tracking system, said Abernethy. Programs offered in one region aren't necessarily offered in another and people travelling to different regions often have to repeat medical tests and paperwork.

Having one authority would standardize information and policies throughout the territory.

"If we're all working on the same standards, the flow of information will be a lot easier," he said. "It will all be in one system as opposed to different systems."

Abernethy said standardizing policy and responsibilities would also allow staff to help fill vacancies or support regions facing temporary staff shortages.

He said it would also mean more Northerners could be trained for higher level positions.

"Most authorities can't afford to bring in an extra body to train up toward a more senior level job," he said. "By having authorities working together, a person receiving the training can move around."

Occupational therapy teams and physiotherapy teams would also be able to expand their reach across the territory.

"They would still report to regional offices, but be part of a bigger team," Abernethy said.

William Bennett, Ulukhaktok's senior administrative officer, said having one territorial health authority is a good idea.

"I personally think it's going to improve the level of care," he said. "I kind of think over time it will increase the efficiency of the whole system and probably result in increased services."

Bennett also said he believes having one health board will improve the department's ability to attract and retain workers.

"I think if you strictly have one board dealing with it now, you'll have a standardized system across the North," he said. "I think it just makes it a stronger employer."

Whati Chief Alfonz Nitsiza said while it's too early to tell how the new system would affect health care, he knows the structure can be successful.

"I can tell you that my own experience as the chair of the Tlicho Community Service Agency for five years before becoming chief is that we do have the integrated service model in the Tlicho region," he said. "It works for us."

But, Nitsiza said he also believes regional boards aren't given enough support.

"If you don't give them the necessary resources and authority to do the job then it will not work," he said. "I think that's what happened."

He said no matter how health care is structured, he believes issues such as ensuring translators are available for elders and stronger mental health and addictions services are the most important health issues facing the territory.

"None of these things will necessarily get better by changing the governance of the system," he said.

Nitsiza said as chief, he wouldn't oppose one board as long as the provisions of the Tlicho Agreement were maintained.

"We do have our intergovernmental service agreement with the government in our Tlicho Agreement," he said. "As long as that's not affected, we have no issue with it."

Abernethy said he plans to continue visiting communities in the coming weeks, including Ulukhaktok.

Bennett said a council meeting is scheduled to take place the afternoon of Aug. 27 and a public meeting will follow at about 6 p.m.

Residents are also encouraged to provide feedback online via the department's website until Sept. 30.

Abernethy said if legislation is passed, the new board could come into effect in April 2016, but added that the date is tentative.

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