Mr. Speaker, earlier, I spoke about our public health response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Today, I would like to highlight how our health and social services system is responding to this unprecedented challenge.
The Chief Public Health Officer is leading the public health response and providing subject matter expertise to the health and social services system and Government of the Northwest Territories on pandemic planning requirements. Our first step in responding to the threat of COVID-19 was to activate the Emergency Operations Center, or EOC, on March 11, 2020.
The EOC assesses risks, identifies mitigation measures, and coordinates the health and social services system response and recovery. It includes representatives from the Department of Health and Social Services, the health and social services authorities, the Department of Finance, and the Northwest Territories Emergency Measures Operations, led by the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs.
Mr. Speaker, this early coordination of our Health and Social Services system response allowed for the necessary service adjustments to support the public health orders. This included reducing non-essential health services in order to ramp up testing, contact tracing, and care for those who may test positive for COVID-19. We also put in place measures to manage our Personal Protective Equipment inventory for front-line healthcare workers, and we are working closely with the Public Health Agency of Canada to secure our supply. To safeguard residents living in long-term care facilities, guidelines were implemented to reduce visits and to institute daily temperature checks and health screening. Service providers also implemented protocols in relation to the use Personal Protective Equipment and enhanced disinfection practices well before we had any cases in the NWT.
Mr. Speaker, in order to meet the requirements for physical distancing and provide timelier access to care, our health system has expanded virtual care. This enables practitioners to meet with each other and with a patient over distance. It also reduces physical patient interactions in waiting rooms, with clinic staff, and with providers through the use of phone visits and video conferencing, as well as providing remote access to the electronic medical records. We have also accelerated Primary Health Care Reform in Yellowknife in order to support the roll out of virtual care and to maintain continuity of services while physician resources are redeployed to other parts of the system. We have now moved to an integrated care team model, which gives clients access to a dedicated primary care team rather than just a doctor. We are also testing some outreach approaches to provide primary care services to individuals being served by shelter organizations in Yellowknife.
Mr. Speaker, at the same time, the three health and social services authorities have been working diligently to address and prepare for the surge of transmission of the COVID-19 virus. This coordinated approach across the Northwest Territories healthcare system is crucial to ensure all resources are aligned in order to achieve the best possible outcomes for patients, staff, and the residents of our territory at various stages of this pandemic response.
This four-stage response plan is based on principles that acknowledge that the pandemic response is our government's primary priority, that all response activities are coordinated and all resources must be managed system-wide. It also focuses the response within the capabilities of our system: maximizing and mobilizing staff where needed; moving patients to where care can be provided; redistributing supplies and equipment where and when needed; and the appropriate triaging of care, including centralizing hospitalizations in Yellowknife and Edmonton for patients with severe symptoms. This plan demonstrates a thorough and realistic approach to respond to COVID-19. The Health and Social Services Pandemic Response Plan is being shared with Members of the Legislative Assembly and will be made public as soon as possible.
Mr. Speaker, the safety of children and youth in our care has been central to our COVID response. We are taking every opportunity to improve the quality of our child and family services to positively impact outcomes for children and youth while working within public health measures. During the containment phase of the pandemic, most face-to-face visits were temporarily suspended. These temporary suspensions were in place to make sure children, families, and frontline workers are safe. Child and family services staff made use of virtual technology to keep children and their families connected with each other and with frontline workers. With the release of the Emerging Wisely Plan, we are now assessing how to safely, gradually introduce face-to-face visits once again.
We are offering one-time, short-term financial support to help families with their basic needs if they cannot get enough assistance from other programs, and we have extended support services for youth in care and young adults who are aging out of these services during the COVID-19 pandemic. We are also working with the Foster Family Coalition of the Northwest Territories to respond to the needs of our foster caregivers and to provide ongoing support and communication. We have established respite services for foster caregivers in the Northwest Territories to support them during the COVID-19 pandemic and have established clear protocols should a child in their care require testing or care for COVID-19.
Mr. Speaker, I want to take this opportunity to thank all of our front-line health and social services workers for their hard work and dedication to the people they serve. I recognize that there are many challenges ahead and know that you will continue to serve our residents as you always have, with professionalism, compassion, and commitment. Our health and social services have responded quickly and effectively to the COVID-19 challenge to date. I am confident that we are well prepared to respond should there be a surge in COVID-19 transmissions into the future. However, it remains critically important that we all remain vigilant in following the public health measures to limit the spread of COVID-19 and minimize the demand on our health and social services system. We are stronger and healthier if we act together. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.