Health minister and First Nation at odds over addictions help

Glen Abernethy and Department of Health staffers
Glen Abernethy, with Department of Health colleagues, taking questions from MLAs. (2015)
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Health minister Glen Abernethy and the K’atl’odeeche First Nation disagree over the future of addictions treatment in the Northwest Territories.

In a statement, Chief Roy Fabian said plans to introduce more training and support on the Hay River Reserve had been rejected by the territorial government.

Chief Fabian questioned the current practice of sending people south for treatment, following the closure of the reserve’s Nats’ejée K’éh treatment centre – the territory’s only remaining facility of its kind – in 2013.

But Abernethy said southern treatment is better, in his view, than treatment offered at Nats’ejée K’éh during its lifetime.

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The minister further suggested that the K’atl’odeeche First Nation (KFN) had failed to deliver a meaningful proposal, despite around $60,000 in territorial funding to explore options for the reopening of Nats’ejée K’éh.

‘Not feasible’

“In 2011, the treatment centre commissioned an independent review,” Abernethy told Moose FM. “The review showed a number of things needed to be addressed to ensure we weren’t putting clients at risk. We worked unsuccessfully to try to find a resolution and the board decided to shut the centre down.

“Since that time we have funded KFN. We gave them $40,000 for an exploratory meeting. We want to work with them, they have good ideas. We’re still hoping that at some point, KFN will come back with one of those options more fleshed out.

“They’ve asked for $190,000 to develop a plan. That’s not really feasible at this point in time. We need them to come up with a more concrete plan on how they would use that facility.”

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Chief Fabian, by contrast, said the KFN had “a proposal to meaningfully include all regions in the NWT in the development of a plan” to improve addictions treatment in the North.

“[It] would include training, support for clients as they wait for a ‘spot’ in a southern treatment institution; support to interrupt the addiction cycle that has resulted from decades of post traumatic stress disorder; and support to communities offering on the land addictions program,” read a KFN statement.

Chief Fabian called the territory’s rejection “a slap in the face”, adding: “We can only assume that the Department of Health and Social Services does not want to work collaboratively to find real solutions. They offered us $20,000 to do a job that would cost 10 times that if meaningful programs are to be phased in with support from all regions.”

‘Night and day’

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It’s not clear if Chief Fabian was referring to the costs of planning a project, or its full execution. Abernethy spoke with reference only to the cost of developing a plan.

“They talked about proposals like a wellness centre, an addictions training centre, a cultural and spiritual centre, and a home base for mobile treatment,” said Abernethy. “Any one of these seems like a reasonable idea but they need to be fleshed out.

“At this point they haven’t come forward with that – they’ve asked for $190,000 to develop a plan, rather than to work on these ideas that came forward at other meetings.

“We’ve offered $20,000 to help them flesh out a plan so we have something we can actually make a decision on.”

Abernethy told Moose FM the system of sending people south for treatment is delivering “pretty good results”.

He added: “We’ve run four treatment facilities in the NWT and every one has failed.

“There are multiple reasons, but the low client numbers we have are not really sustainable. They can’t draw in the psychiatrists, psychologists, those individuals really beneficial to a treatment centre. They also can’t run the full scope of programs.

“I’ve talked to people who have gone to Nats’ejée K’éh in the past, and to these southern treatment facilities. What they’re telling me is it’s night and day.”

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