NWT health is broken – minister pushes plan to fix it by 2016

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Yellowknife, NWT – Health minister Glen Abernethy says his plans to fix the Northwest Territories’ ‘broken’ health system “won’t save a whole whack of cash” – but will make life easier for residents living with sometimes ‘brutal’ healthcare.

Patients in the Northwest Territories currently have to navigate a system of eight separate territorial authorities when seeking care.

Abernethy’s plan, first announced in August and presented at this week’s AGM of the Yellowknife Health and Social Services Authority (YHSSA), calls for the replacement of those eight agencies with a lone, overarching territorial authority, accompanied by advisory groups to provide regions and communities with a voice in healthcare decisions.

He wants the system in place by April 2016.

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“We’ve got great people doing incredible work but, by the way we’ve designed our system – which is a very silo-based system, very fractured, very inefficient – even when professionals do their jobs perfectly, the patients don’t always get the best results or the best care,” Abernethy (pictured above) told Moose FM.

“There isn’t one resident, or one patient, in the Northwest Territories who receives their services from one authority. They receive them from multiple authorities on a regular basis and as individuals move through that system now, they’re running up against these artificial barriers we’ve created.

“I’ve heard so many people saying, ‘I just want quality, consistent care, and if I need to go somewhere else, that I and my information will flow seamlessly and there won’t be any barriers to my care.’ Right now, we can’t say that.”

YHSSA chief executive Les Harrison welcomed Abernethy’s plans.

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“The people that are front-line staff want to provide support to the people coming through their door, whether or not they’re from Yellowknife or some other community,” said Harrison.

“I think there’s a real openness and I see that not just in Yellowknife but on the part of other authorities as well.”

However, Abernethy did have to calm fears expressed, during the AGM, that smaller communities may lose some of their voice in health decision-making if the changes go ahead.

“We’re talking about one authority with a number of advisory bodies at a regional level, so we can maintain a regional and community voice,” he said.

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“This isn’t about centralization or moving positions from one region or community to another. The bottom line of this whole thing is we want to focus on the patient.

“Given our desire is to improve patient care, we have to leave positions where they are – where the patients are. It wouldn’t make any sense to pull positions out of the communities or Yellowknife, because it would actually adversely affect the care we’re trying to improve.”

In a video presentation at the AGM, Dr Ewan Affleck recalled a tuberculosis outbreak in 2007, spread largely because authorities failed to communicate while a single, travelling individual unwittingly spread TB throughout the territory.

Dr Affleck said the “lack of a coherent system plan” allowed the outbreak to take place, adding: “We need shared standards and shared information, because we share the same patients.”

In closing his presentation, Abernethy urged: “We should be able to do better for the people of the NWT.”

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