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Health-care jobs sit vacant in Sahtu
Pilot program in Deline will train residents to take on front-line health positions

Meagan Leonard
Northern News Services
Monday, June 15, 2015

A new program will seek to eliminate some 13 staffing vacancies across the territory in the Sahtu Health and Social Services Authority.

In legislative assembly May 29, Health Minister Glen Abernethy said a pilot initiative in Deline will focus on hiring and training residents in the community for positions the GNWT is having difficulty filling.

Of these, many are for mental health and addictions counsellor positions which have been vacant for over 10 months.

Sahtu MLA Norman Yakeleya said he believes there is a direct correlation between the poor auditor general's report on the territory's correctional facilities and the persistent vacancies within Health and Social Services.

"People that show up in our jails are aboriginal, male and the number one issue they (have) is drug and alcohol abuse and violent behaviours," he explained.

When staff are hired and flown in from down south, they have no context of the issues plaguing rural communities, continued Yakeleya.

"We don't need people coming from out of the region, from Toronto, from Edmonton - they come into our region, they don't know our region or the people or the culture or how things are done so we end up having to train them."

He added the jobs are not desirable to those from larger centres and many who do come to work end up having to leave due to stress or exhaustion. When the positions are not filled, Yakeleya says community members are forced to take on those roles and therefore could work with the health board and take on more responsibility.

"Within our own health board there are some people who are either on sick leave or extended leave because they are being overworked," Yakeleya said. "Some are even complaining there aren't proper support mechanisms within the health board."

Abernethy said, while it seems like a no-brainer to hire community members for the positions, often it is not that simple.

"There's a number of reasons we've been having difficulties," he explained. "Some of these professions do have statutory requirements so it does tie our hands a little bit as far as who we can put into these positions."

Abernethy said a new pilot program in the early stages of development will be rolled out in Deline and focus on training local people to run programs in the community. He cited a new elder's centre in Norman Wells as an opportunity for residents to get involved.

"We are hopefully going to be opening a long-term care facility in the Norman Wells area in the next year or two," Abernethy said. "We're working with the Gwich'in, the Sahtu and the Inuvialuit to arrange training for local people to take on many of those roles."

In the meantime focus will be on recruiting professionals from outside the communities.

There are a total of 71 positions in the Sahtu Health and Social Services Authority.

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