The Department of Health has hired a consultant to help the development of a new Aboriginal wellness centre in Yellowknife.
Within days of announcing plans to build a new hospital in the city, at an initial cost of some $350 million, the health minister tabled a document which suggests the territory is progressing toward a separate, standalone wellness centre.
The undated document, tabled last week, says the department is “working with Stanton Territorial Health Authority to define the needs for the development of a Territorial Aboriginal Wellness Centre”.
It continues: “The department has recently engaged an external consultant to develop an operational plan to support the development of a Territorial Aboriginal Wellness Centre.
“Some aspects of Aboriginal wellness cannot be accommodated within the walls of an acute care hospital due to building code and safety requirements. We are committed to exploring the need for a standalone wellness centre, outside the walls of the acute care hospital, that could accommodate traditional activities and act as a gathering place for patients, family and friends.”
A wellness centre is distinct from a treatment facility.
Last week, responding to Deh Cho MLA Michael Nadli, health minister Glen Abernethy said a wellness centre may also be a future use for the former Nats’ejee K’eh treatment facility on the Hay River Reserve.
Abernethy said options for that building “do not include a treatment facility but a wellness centre, a training centre for mental health and addictions, a spiritual centre for Aboriginal people, as well as possibly the home location of what will be the future of a mobile treatment option”.
In February, the Elders’ Council at Stanton Hospital called for the development of an Aboriginal wellness centre in the city – as did Nahendeh MLA Kevin Menicoche a month later.
“Aboriginal people die earlier, live in conditions comparable to third-world countries, experience housing and living crises, obtain lower education levels, experience unemployment and poverty and are at increased risk for suicide, tuberculosis and diabetes,” Menicoche told the legislature in March.
“Improving and recognizing a unique Aboriginal healthcare model is beneficial because it has been shown in other jurisdictions that having close Aboriginal ties to traditional healing works wonders. Cancer rates decrease, diabetes rates decline and the general health and well-being improves because our people are comfortable and relaxed in a setting they recognize.”
In a separate document tabled last week, the Department of Health also confirmed it is keeping its current Stanton Hospital security contractor.
Concerns over hospital security followed a number of incidents in late 2014 and early 2015. There had been some calls to bring security in-house under GNWT control, or seek a new contractor.
“At this time, the department is not considering changing the current contract with the security provider as they are meeting the security needs at Stanton,” read the response to regular MLAs.
“Furthermore, given challenges associated with retention, the department will not be looking at hiring security personnel as employees of the Government of the Northwest Territories.”
The territory says new measures in place at Stanton include an increased security presence featuring guards with more experience and training.