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Glen Abernethy – Improving Our System

Mr. Speaker, this Government is committed to improving the health and social services system in the Northwest Territories. Over the last year, I have travelled to every region of the NWT to consult with residents, communities, Aboriginal governments, and staff in the regional Authorities. Everywhere I go, I have heard from people that they don’t care about bureaucratic boundaries and regional silos. They just want the best possible care for themselves and their loved ones.  They want to be sure that we can afford to provide excellent care into the future.

Based on what we’ve heard from the people, and guided by experts in our system and the valuable insights of my colleagues in this House, the Department of Health and Social Services and the eight Health and Social Services Authorities have developed a proposed model for an integrated health and social services system. I have kept Members of the Standing Committee on Social Programs informed as the proposal has evolved and have received positive feedback and support from Committee for this approach. We have also partnered on the development of a system-wide strategic plan that will help us to achieve our vision of Best Health, Best Care, for a Better Future. 

Mr. Speaker, the proposed model addresses a major gap that exists in our system today. Right now communities and regions do not have a voice at the territorial level, and we want to change that.  Our proposal is to move to one territorial Health and Social Services Authority with one territorial board of management. But regional advisory wellness councils will continue to provide advice on local and regional program delivery.  By having the Chairs of the Regional Wellness Councils sit as members of the NWT Health and Social Services Leadership Council, we will ensure that community concerns and knowledge are brought forward and that every region of the NWT gains a voice in the design and delivery of territorial programs and services.

There is widespread concern about the health of NWT residents, and particular concern about addictions, early childhood development, and chronic diseases such as diabetes.  We need to remove barriers for our system to work better and meet the needs of our residents.  We have heard repeatedly that the key to success for our proposal is to ensure a meaningful role for communities and regions, and to balance regional priorities with the need for clinical standards and improved access to service.

The proposed new system structure, vision, mission, and goals were made available for public feedback in August of this year.  The amount of interest from NWT residents was so strong that we extended the deadline for responses to October 31, to ensure that we heard from as many people as possible.  During that time, 360 online surveys were completed and we heard from many residents during public discussions. The public feedback indicates overwhelming support for the proposed model and strategic plan.  We have more work to do, but we have heard that we are on the right track.

Work is under way to move this initiative forward.  I plan to introduce amendments to the Hospital Insurance and Health and Social Services Administration Act in the Winter Session.  Based on the results of our consultation, the Department will lead the development of the organizational design for the integrated system, with a goal of implementation in early 2016.

Mr. Speaker, this is not the first time the Government of the Northwest Territories has tried to advance structural improvements to the system – but it is the first time that the proposal is being met with a generally positive response.  That speaks to the different approach we have taken this time around.

From the beginning, I have insisted that our focus be on improving patient care and service to clients. In every region and community that I have visited, I’ve heard personal stories of frustration from people who have encountered barriers in our system. We can, and we must, do better.

We have also engaged Aboriginal governments and community leadership in a dialogue, rather than presenting a final model from the outset.  We are committed to working in a government-to-government partnership with Aboriginal governments in the spirit of respect, recognition and responsibility, and we value their input into this process and their support for the changes we are proposing.

Finally, I have said from the beginning – and I reiterate today – that we are not talking about centralization.  We do not propose to eliminate any positions, and we do not intend to move positions out of regions or communities.  We have great people working throughout our system, and we need to keep them where they can make the biggest difference for our residents – on the frontlines in our communities.

There is no reason that senior staff need to be in one location.  This new structure will create exciting opportunities for the talented people within our system to assume leadership roles, working in virtual teams across the territory.

Mr. Speaker, I am really excited about the potential to transform the system.  There are so many benefits we can realize from moving towards operating as one system.  We can ensure consistent standards of service for all of our residents.  We can deploy resources both financial and professional – more easily to areas of greatest need.  We can move patients and clients seamlessly through the system without delays or duplication.  We can ensure that resources are used to optimum advantage, by eliminating duplication and overlap.  I am grateful for the ongoing support from Regular Members for this initiative.

This is an exciting and challenging time for the NWT health and social services system, and we are rising to that challenge. Working in partnership, we will provide the highest quality of care and services, we will encourage our people to make healthy choices to keep individuals, families and communities healthy and strong, and we will achieve our vision of “Best Health, Best Care, for a Better Future”.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.