Mr. Speaker, the residents of Hay River are gravely concerned about the state of the healthcare system in our community, and many believe that the situation is worsening. People are afraid to get sick or injured in Hay River. It’s hard to blame them; we’ve all heard the horror stories.

I know people who are living with the ongoing and, in some cases, lifelong effects of serious injuries like fractured skulls, broken necks, and broken backs because, despite their best efforts, these injuries were not properly diagnosed in Hay River, and they were eventually forced to seek care outside the territory. I know people who have been diagnosed with life-threatening conditions, but weren’t informed until years later. I know people with serious but manageable medical conditions who have uprooted their lives and moved out of town because, based on their experiences with the healthcare system, they felt like they were playing Russian roulette by living in Hay River.

In fact, many people who live in Hay River don’t actually use the local health services; they have family doctors in Alberta that they see on a regular basis. That seems to be the only way people can see the same physician more than once, and that lack of continuity contributes to the problems that we’re facing.

We actually have some great permanent physicians in Hay River who are loved by the community. We’ve had some in the past, as well, and the same goes for nurses. The problem is that they never seem to stay. As a result, we’re always understaffed and, instead of having established medical teams who know patients’ histories and who can play off each other’s strengths, we’re forced to rely on a revolving door of locums and temporary employees.

While recruitment of health professionals is difficult across Canada, our problem is not so much recruitment as retention. We seem to be able to attract doctors and nurses, but we can’t keep them. What’s so frustrating is that I often hear that they would love to stay in Hay River, but they don’t want to work at the Health Authority.

As an MLA, I don’t get to see the internal, day-to-day workings of the organization, but I’ve heard enough from past and present employees, and from the public, to know that the ongoing problems at the authority need to be addressed before anything will change.

These issues are not insurmountable, but they will take a concerted effort on the part of this government and on the part of this authority and, while time might have run out for this Assembly, I’m confident that, in the future, we can make the changes necessary. I’ll have some questions for the Minister of Health. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Question 789-18(3):
State of Health Care System in Hay River

MR. SIMPSON: The residents of Hay River have grave concerns about our healthcare system and many feel that things are getting worse. It is still nearly impossible to make an appointment. At the clinic, physician shortages are now commonplace. The authority can’t seem to retain staff, patients are wary of the quality of care that they receive, and the public has generally lost faith in the system.

I don’t want to disparage anyone at the authority, but it seems to me that these concerns appear to be the result of deep-seated issues that cannot be fixed using a piecemeal approach, and there needs to be some substantial, and possibly structural, changes made.

I have some questions for the Minister of Health: is the department aware of systemic issues at the Hay River Health and Social Services authority that contribute to the ongoing difficulties, such as the difficulty retaining staff? Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

HON. GLEN ABERNETHY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. We are aware of the concerns and the challenges facing the Hay River Health and Social Services authority. I agree with the Member that some systemic change is required in that authority. To that end, I know that the chief operating officer and the public administrator are looking at bringing about some change in that organization.

I have asked the deputy minister of Health and Social Services and the chair of the territorial Health and Social Services authority to go down and meet with them to talk about opportunities that we have to make some improvements in that authority, to improve the overall management, care, and delivery of health and social services in that community. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

MR. SIMPSON: True to form, the Minister answered a couple of my other questions, so I will skip to my last one. Unfortunately, the next Assembly will have a new Minister of Health. What advice can this Minister provide to his successor to help address these ongoing issues at the Health and Social Services authority in Hay River?

HON. GLEN ABERNETHY: We face challenges across the entire Northwest Territories. Recruitment and retention is a big challenge. When it comes to Hay River, I have had the opportunity to talk to a lot of different practitioners and nurses, both in Hay River and out of Hay River, and one of the things that I have heard from some individuals outside the community is that they would love to go to Hay River. They think it’s a great community. It’s in a beautiful spot, it’s a 10-hour drive from Edmonton, it’s a brand-new health centre, but they don’t want to go there because they don’t want to leave the public service.

Frankly, I think that one of the initiatives that the next government does have to undertake is to bring Hay River into the public service to improve that security, ensure that they are getting the best pension, and expand their ability to reach out to additional services in the Northwest Territories, to make sure that we have those economies of scale that Hay River doesn’t always get to take advantage of. I really think that the next government is going to have to find a way to bring them in.