The Northwest Territories is delaying the introduction of a single, territory-wide health authority until August.
The territorial government had previously envisaged amalgamating six regional authorities into one by April this year, marking the culmination of several years’ work to rearrange how health services are provided in the NWT.
However, in a statement on Tuesday, the territory said “a number of challenges need to be addressed” and the new Territorial Health and Social Services Authority will not be operational until August 1.
“This delay from the original proposed implementation date will ensure work to set up the authority is done with the best interests of our residents in mind, and does not sacrifice quality for speed,” said the territorial government in a statement. The territory did not elaborate on the challenges faced.
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There are currently eight separate health and social services providers in the NWT.
The plans call for six of those to merge, with a seventh – the Hay River Health and Social Services Authority – joining at a later date once employment terms to move its staff into the public service are agreed.
The eighth is the Tlicho Community Services Agency, which will remain separate but is termed a “partner in the system”.
Last June, a bill paving the way for these changes to take place was passed in the territory’s legislature.
At the time, health minister Glen Abernethy said a single, larger authority would “improve the system’s ability to provide the best possible care to patients and clients”.
He told fellow MLAs: “We want the system to focus on the needs of clients and ensure it is as efficient, sustainable and accountable, as possible.
“The current governance structure makes it difficult to improve our system. With eight different health and social services authorities, there has been a lack of coordination, communication, and an inefficient use of resources.
“We are working to improve the governance structure so that we can take advantage of new technologies, improve capacity, and continue to provide high-quality services and programs in the future – while ensuring that we provide a consistent level of care for all residents.”
Last year, the Union of Northern Workers expressed concern that merging authorities could lead to job losses. The union is currently engaged in collective bargaining with the territory over employment conditions for 4,000 government workers.
The territory says regional staffing will not change, and the merger will make it easier to share staff – and patient records.
Sue Cullen will lead the new authority once it is established.
Cullen, currently the acting chief executive of Stanton Territorial Hospital, has prior experience as a senior executive within both the Hay River Health and Social Services Authority and the Department of Health and Social Services.