This is page numbers of the Hansard for the 19th Assembly, 2nd Session. The original version can be accessed on the Legislative Assembly's website or by contacting the Legislative Assembly Library. The word of the day was units.

Topics

Members Present

Hon. Diane Archie, Hon. Frederick Blake Jr., Mr. Bonnetrouge, Hon. Paulie Chinna, Ms. Cleveland, Hon. Caroline Cochrane, Hon. Julie Green, Mr. Jacobson, Mr. Johnson, Ms. Martselos, Ms. Nokleby, Mr. O'Reilly, Ms. Semmler, Hon. R.J. Simpson, Mr. Rocky Simpson, Hon. Shane Thompson, Hon. Caroline Wawzonek. Ms. Weyallon-Armstrong

The House met at 1:30 p.m.

---Prayer

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The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Ministers' statements. Minister responsible for Municipal and Community Affairs.

Ministers' Statements

Minister's Statement 190-19(2):
Flood Recovery in the Northwest Territories

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Shane Thompson Nahendeh

Mr. Speaker, I would like to provide an update on the status of the flood recovery work being undertaken by the Government of the Northwest Territories. As soon as the floodwater retreated last spring, community government leadership, residents, and our government got together to work, helping communities recover from the worst flood many of us have seen in our lifetime.

There are many people involved in this effort. I want to recognize the tireless efforts of the community government leadership in the immediately flood aftermath and over the past several months. Some of the leadership has changed since the flood occurred but as the waters rose, Chief Stanley Sanguez, Mayor Sean Whelly, Mayor Andrew Charlie, and Chief Daniel Masuzumi showed tremendous leadership, evacuating residents safely and taking steps to reduce the potential flood damage where possible.
Mayor Kandis Jameson and Chief April Martel, among many others, executed their emergency plans flawlessly and were ready for the worst, even if it never came. Residents and leaders in Fort Smith, Fort Providence, and Inuvik are to be commended for taking such excellent care of evacuees from flooded communities.

Mr. Speaker, our government knew we needed extraordinary measures to meet the challenges of these extraordinary floods.

We are doing home repairs on primary residences for those who have asked us to do this work. We've arranged for replacement homes for those destroyed by the flood so individuals and families do not need to start from scratch. We are providing disaster assistance to small businesses and community governments given the disruption and impact to their operations. We are providing disaster assistance payment to those residents who lost some or all of the contents of their homes.

Mr. Speaker, in Fort Simpson, Fort Good Hope, and Jean Marie River, we are on track to get repairs done by the end of the year, and replacement homes are scheduled to arrive between January and March in the new year.

I want to acknowledge the support and assistance provided by the contractors who have worked with the GNWT and with residents throughout the recovery process, especially ARCAN Construction, who provided critical support in completing this recovery work. I would also like to recognize Ne'rahten Development Ltd. for their work on the reconstruction efforts in Fort Good Hope.

We all hoped that the recovery could be done sooner, however, given the extraordinary flooding that occurred, recovering from this disaster was never going to be easy. Also, any construction project brings challenges with that and it needs to be managed and often this means shifting timelines.

To residents who have still not returned to their homes or who may still be facing challenges that have come as a result of the flood damage, I want to thank you for your patience as we continue our work to recover fully from last spring's flood.

The Department of Municipal and Community Affairs is conducting a thorough review of our response to this emergency and we will be using these lessons learned to ensure that we are prepared for the spring of 2022.

Mr. Speaker, I want to end on a personal note. I saw the impact of the flood on communities firsthand. Living in one of the flooded impacted communities, I was able to meet with residents, hear their stories, and try to help them in their time of need. I would like to thank the Minister Archie and Minister Chinna for their visit -- visiting some of the impacted communities during the flood. I would also like to thank the Premier for her constant support in this difficult time.

The work being done to recover from the flood is about the people and making sure they recover from the disaster. Our government has based our approach on that principle. We will continue to work on their behalf as we complete the recovery work in affected communities. Together, with the dedication of community government leadership, we will recover and rebuild together. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

---Applause

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The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Minister. Ministers' statements. Minister responsible for Health and Social Services


Minister's Statement 191-19(2):
Stanton Labour and Delivery Services Update


HON. JULIE GREEN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, I rise today to update Members on the temporary shutdown of labor and delivery services at Stanton Territorial Hospital. This closure requires the Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authority to send pregnant people to Edmonton to give birth. I know that this has placed a significant burden on NWT families at what should be a time of joy and celebration. I also recognize that this decision is even more difficult, coming as it does, so close to the holiday season.


This difficult decision was made to ensure the safety of individuals and their newborn babies while we experience an acute staffing shortage. By transferring care to Alberta, we can ensure our territorial hospital maintains capacity to deal with any urgent situations during pregnancy and ensure patient safety.

The priority of NTHSSA, Mr. Speaker, is the patients whose plans for giving birth here in Yellowknife have been disrupted by the temporary closure of those labor and delivery services at Stanton. As soon as hospital leadership confirmed that they were not going to be able to maintain this service, staff began to contact affected patients directly to discuss next steps.

Contact is being made by a team of people who were specifically tasked with discussing the individual circumstances of each patient and their families so together they can come up with a plan that meets the family's needs as much as possible.

Staff will continue to follow up with patients and families to ensure individuals have the information and understand the supports they may require.

The NTHSSA is also working to put together patient
resources that will prepare individuals for their trip and the transition of care. Clinical resources in Edmonton are closely collaborating with care teams in the NWT to ensure ample resources and supports for patients are ready, including pre- and postnatal care and additional birthing supports.


To date, the NTHSSA medical travel program has worked with 71 clients to determine benefits and eligibility. Of these, 13 families are above the high-income threshold without employer or other benefits, who would be required to pay the co-pay. That said, there is a process to waive this fee if families can demonstrate it is a financial hardship.

Thirty-one families will be covered by employer programs and 26 qualify for non-insured health benefits and will receive additional support through that program. And then finally, seven are considered low-income and they will not be required to pay the co-pay and can have their expenses advanced to reduce any potential financial outlay.


The key piece here, Mr. Speaker, is that most individuals will have access to programs and resources outside the medical travel program. As a result of this initial assessment, NTHSSA is now able to focus on adding support and assisting individuals based on their specific needs.


While staff are making every effort to support patients who are now being asked to give birth in Edmonton, Mr. Speaker, I do want to acknowledge that this is a significant inconvenience for all patients who were expecting to give birth in Yellowknife. Even with support and best efforts from NTHSSA, I know that these are not the circumstances that families wanted, and I am sorry that we are not able to live up to their expectations.


Mr. Speaker, I want to reassure Members that NTHSSA has taken reasonable steps to prevent this temporary shutdown and if there had been any easy solutions, they would have been gladly implemented. NTHSSA has been making every effort to recruit staff in the face of a national nursing shortage that the pandemic has only made worse.

Advertising and active promotion in a variety of locations, including national nursing recruitment sites, has netted only seven applications and one hire since June. An external staffing agency, brought on in October to provide additional assistance, has only managed to identify three additional nurses with varying start dates and contracts still being confirmed. NTHSSA also issued a request for assistance from other provinces and territories but so far have been unable to generate additional staffing from this source, as these staff are in high demand in their home provinces.


NTHSSA is also making efforts to staff from within through redeployment, but different roles require different training and the pool of staff available is not large. I thank the staff in the obstetrics unit who stepped up in response to a call to pick up shifts yet NTHSSA was not able to cover more than one-quarter of all shifts in December, which simply was not enough to support the normal labor and delivery service.


While NTHSSA leadership will continue their efforts to fill immediate vacancies, Mr. Speaker, we obviously need a longer-term plan for addressing staffing needs.

Staff at the authority and the department are currently working on a Health and Social Services human resource plan that will include several key pieces to improve their ability to recruit staff. They are also surveying nursing staff directly to make sure plans are informed by an accurate understanding of challenges and concerns.

Finally, because one way to increase the labor supply is to grow the pool of trained people, there are specialized nursing certification training programs to help develop staff where the labor market is not meeting the need. This program will be piloted in the obstetrics unit at Stanton.


I know that challenges in hiring and adding capacity to the workforce are inextricably tied to the challenges of retention. Keeping the great staff we have is more important than being able to attract new talent.


Mr. Speaker, NTHSSA is taking steps to address the more persistent issues that have contributed to this immediate challenge. I recognize that morale issues have been building at Stanton, and they need to be addressed. A near strike, a facility move followed by a challenging start-up, and a global pandemic have all contributed to significant change and pressure on staff and leadership at the hospital.

As Minister, I know we need to improve and we need to do so quickly. I have met with staff from the obstetrics unit at Stanton and representatives from the Union of Northern Workers as well as leadership at Stanton, at the health authority, and in the department. We are all on the same page; we need to address this.

Stanton leadership has created a team, including clinical leads and management, to look at the current operational issues in detail and find the quickest path to service resumption with a focus on longer-term sustainability of services.

Stanton leadership is also looking closely at concerns over leave, workload, and compensation that have recently been highlighted as factors contributing to staff morale. The department and the authority are initiating a working group to look at staffing levels, service types, and volumes in the obstetrics unit to determine what appropriate staffing looks like and will look at what interim additional measures may be put in place until this review is complete. The department will also be working directly with the Department of Finance to discuss what options are available to ensure we remain competitive when it comes to attracting staff nationally and retaining the excellent staff we have.


Stanton's chief operating officer has already engaged with staff as part of a review of leave policies and processes that is expected to be complete by January. NTHSSA will also broaden opportunities for staff to meet directly with leadership to put their concerns on the table and help identify solutions. Culture change, Mr. Speaker, takes time but all parties are committed to doing it and doing it right.


Mr. Speaker, these are difficult times for the patients who are now being asked to deliver their babies in Edmonton and for the staff in the obstetrics unit. I want to assure Members that I, the authority, and the department are all committed to moving quickly to address the underlying issues that have led to this situation and we will continue to update you on our progress. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.


---Applause

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The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Minister. Ministers' statements. Members' statements. Member for Deh Cho.

Members' Statementsmember's Statement Onchronic Diseases In Small Communities
Members' Statementsmember's Statement Onchronic Diseases In Small Communities

Ronald Bonnetrouge Deh Cho

Masi, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, my topic is chronic diseases in the small communities. Mr. Speaker, Wikipedia describes "chronic diseases" as a human L health condition or disease that is persistent or otherwise long-lasting in its effects or a disease that comes with time. The term "chronic" is often used when a disease lasts for more than three months. Common chronic diseases include arthritis, asthma, cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which is lung disease, and hypertension, which is high blood pressure, and diabetes to name a few. Diabetes was once described as terminal but is now described as chronic due to the availability of insulin and medication to manage the condition.

"Terminal" is described as a lifelong illness that results in death.

Mr. Speaker, Health and Social Services provided information on diabetes in the Northwest Territories and reports in 2017-2018, 5.9 percent of people 12 and older had diabetes, slightly lower than the Canadian average of 7.2 percent. This information is about four years old and does not appear that the Department of Health and Social Services tracks diabetes statistics more frequently therefore the current rate of diabetes in the NWT is not known.

Mr. Speaker, the report also states the NWT has a high rate of ambulatory care, sensitive conditions. That is hospitalizations for some chronic conditions that could have likely been prevented through better chronic disease management and better access to primary health care. Mr. Speaker, I will have questions for the Health Minister at the appropriate time. Masi. ---Applause

Members' Statementsmember's Statement Onchronic Diseases In Small Communities
Members' Statementsmember's Statement Onchronic Diseases In Small Communities

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for De Cho. Member statements. Member for Hay River South.

Member's statement on Use of Locums in Northwest Territories Healthcare
Members' Statementsmember's Statement Onchronic Diseases In Small Communities

Rocky Simpson Hay River South

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, today I want to talk about the use of locum tenens in our health care system. Mr. Speaker, is important that the delivery of health care in the NWT is timely. We must ensure that all communities are provided service, whether they are staffed by physicians, nurse practitioners, nurses, or other health care professionals. Locums are, and are becoming more, important in the way we deliver health care in the NWT.

Mr. Speaker, it was been a number of years since we had a full-time position in Hay River, or at least one we could call a "family physician.” We have had permanent physicians come and stay for a short period, only to leave, thus entrusting locums to fill that gap. I am not saying this is a bad thing because many of the attending locums are specialists that provide an added benefit to community health care services.

Mr. Speaker, if our health care system expects to retain permanent health care professionals, we must provide them with the support from locums in order to allow them time off to enjoy life as well. From statistics I have reviewed, the burnout rate among physicians is placed at upwards of 40 percent; and, with the added burden of the ongoing pandemic, I expect that number has increased. We have to remember that the pandemic lockdowns, coupled with additional workload of acute care units and deferral of surgeries, have healthcare workers re-evaluating what is important, and that is family.

Mr. Speaker, the pandemic has shown the fragility of our health care system, the importance of health care professionals, and the fact that we need to do more to support those on the frontline.

Mr. Speaker, we see large health care employee vacancy numbers, not only in the NWT by throughout Canada. If we expect to retain professional care and health care workers then our current retention approach must be revisited, it must be different, and must come with resolve.

Mr. Speaker, any change must be done in collaboration with our health care professionals. We need immediate solutions to address how to efficiently provide focused patient care for all residents in the NWT. This may include better communication, reducing health care burnout, use of virtual care, functioning facilities and equipment, increased compensation for health care staff, and the effective use of locums who are now engrained in all facets of our health care delivery system. Mr. Speaker, I will have questions for the Minister of Health at the appropriate time. Thank you.

---Applause

Member's statement on Use of Locums in Northwest Territories Healthcare
Members' Statementsmember's Statement Onchronic Diseases In Small Communities

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Hay River South. Members' statements. Member for Nunakput.

member's statement on Appreciation for Frontline Healthcare Workers in Nunakput
Members' Statementsmember's Statement Onchronic Diseases In Small Communities

Jackie Jacobson Nunakput

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Today Mr. Speaker, I'd like to acknowledge and thank all the frontline health care workers in Tuktoyaktuk and my leadership and all Nunakput riding.

Mr. Speaker, 10 percent of my community in Tuktoyaktuk had an outbreak and that's -- that was a really scary situation. It's still 18 positives that we're still working towards getting through that 10-day isolation and making sure they're testing negative but we're very thankful to our staff for all the hard work that they do, August Stuckey and the health centre crew, thank you so much. And for all the tirelessly work you've been doing for the last three weeks to a month. Also to the SAO and the hamlet staff for working so hard and diligently to make sure everything's been going right. And my mayor Erwin Elias, thank you for doing what you do and the good job that you're doing.

Mr. Speaker, November 26th, 2021 our health organization designated a new variant COVID-19. It's a concern. The variant is called Omicron. It appeared in Canada. I was watching the news the other day, at six in the morning, and then -- it was in Ottawa. 4 o'clock in the afternoon, it was in Edmonton. So that's how fast it's travelling, Mr. Speaker, and we're worried. There's a lot of unknowns at this point surrounding the variant, and we don't know how quickly it will spread and the vaccines help. I am concerned with my communities.

My leadership called; I talked to my leadership Josh Oliktoak. I had a text message from him saying, Anybody travelling from Yellowknife airport should be getting a clean bill of COVID test before they jump on the plane heading into Ulu. So that has to be looked at, Mr. Speaker. I don't think it's being done here, or passengers have to go and get a -- get cleared to travel because getting it into Ulukhaktok, some of my Elders are not vaccinated and it's a really scary situation that they went through already. And, you know, there's so many challenges in our communities. Like, for Tuk we had to establish a managing and isolation centre, finding enough homes and places to isolate families. Mr. Speaker, I seek unanimous consent to conclude my statement. ---Unanimous consent granted

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Thank you, colleagues. Ensuring residents have food and they don't have to leave their homes. Administrating a COVID -- administrating the COVID testing and tracing is fast enough to limit the spread, and I'd like to thank them for doing that job so diligently, but we have to work on it.

Mr. Speaker, I'm really concerned on whether the next variant of COVID is going to hit our communities and the secretariat was created to respond to COVID, to create a process that will keep our communities safe. I'm concerned that the response to keep communities safe may be not improving and quick enough to address the challenges for our community and giving the SAOs and the hamlet help. Mr. Speaker, I'll have a few questions for the Premier as the head of COVID Secretariat later this afternoon. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

---Applause

member's statement on Appreciation for Frontline Healthcare Workers in Nunakput
Members' Statementsmember's Statement Onchronic Diseases In Small Communities

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Nunakput. Members' statements. Member for Inuvik Twin Lakes.

member's statement on Government of the Northwest Territories Living Well Together Training
Members' Statementsmember's Statement Onchronic Diseases In Small Communities

December 1st, 2021

Lesa Semmler Inuvik Twin Lakes

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. With the implementation of the Living Well Together training for all the government of the Northwest Territories staff, it was disturbing for me to hear on the different occasions that some members of the public service are not completing this training. The Living Well Together recognizes that the NWT was first Indigenous land filled with Indigenous people. It recognizes the impact of colonization had on Indigenous people. It explains through firsthand stories how this trauma continues today in the lives of Indigenous residents.

Living Well Together was intended to provide all public servants with Indigenous cultural awareness and sensitivity training to assist them in their jobs.

Mr. Speaker, I think people throughout Canada, even within the NWT, do not recognize the impact of our collective history built on racism, white privilege, removing Indigenous people from their land, and forcing children out of their culture. Many people don't recognize -- don't truly recognize how Canada's colonial history affects us all today.

Mr. Speaker, many of our Indigenous people struggle with addictions, mental health, high rates of family violence; our children make up most all of the children in care; and the majority of the inmates in our -- of the population in our correction facilities. The homeless and underhoused people in the NWT are made up of many residents -- residential school survivors or their children.

Mr. Speaker, this is a result of the systemic racism built in governments that has continued since first contact.

Mr. Speaker, this training is extremely important for all public servants in the GNWT to complete, especially those people who deal directly with the public.

Mr. Speaker, we know that non-Indigenous people make up nearly 60 percent of the entire GNWT public service. It is very concerning to me that non-Indigenous public servants, especially those on the frontlines, dealing with directly, with our Elders, our new mothers, our people struggling with addictions, are not properly trained in cultural awareness, or refuse to do so.

I will have questions for the Minister of Finance later today. Masi.

---Applause

member's statement on Government of the Northwest Territories Living Well Together Training
Members' Statementsmember's Statement Onchronic Diseases In Small Communities

The Speaker Frederick Blake Jr.

Thank you, Member for Inuvik Twin Lakes. Members' statements. Member for Great Slave.

Member's statement on Access to Counselling Services for Residential School Survivors
Members' Statementsmember's Statement Onchronic Diseases In Small Communities

Katrina Nokleby Great Slave

Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, recently Health Canada limited access for counseling services for residential school survivors in the NWT and Nunavut. Funding for travelling clinics has been cut and Health Canada counselors that normally travel to the communities, must now take a four to six-week break before they are permitted to see clients in person again. This means that many in-person appointments could take place as much as eight weeks apart.

One of the key aspects of trauma counseling is creating a space in which survivors feel safe enough to share. The creation of that space relies heavily on the trust established with their counselor; trust that may take years to create. Any mental health worker knows that face-to-face sessions are vastly preferred over virtual, as they are trained to look for physical signs of mental health distress, abuse, neglect, or cognitive difficulties. This is especially crucial for children who may not have the language to express their thoughts and feelings. Despite this, Health Canada has instructed counselors to use virtual technology over travel in order to save money.

Mr. Speaker we all know what telephone and internet services are like in the North. It is inadequate and costly and not all residents have access. Add in the disconnect that not being in the same room causes, and one doesn't have to be a mental health expert to see this doesn't work.

The NWT has some of the highest rates of gender-based violence in Canada; only made worse by the pandemic. When I asked the Health Minister about this federal spending cut, she said she'd add it to her agenda when she has "the opportunity to meet with the new federal Minister."

Mr. Speaker, that's not good enough. Why would the Minister not immediately advocate on behalf of our residents? Why would she not inform them that this is not acceptable, particularly during the pandemic? When asked, the Minister points us to GNWT supports saying same day appointments are available. Yes, for one day, then you will be put on a list for a permanent counselor, often waiting for months, as what happened when my father passed away. Otherwise we're pointed to apps and online tools, placing the onus on residents to "heal themselves", something that is clearly not working. Not everyone can "go on the land", Mr. Speaker, nor does everyone have a smartphone or a computer.

This Cabinet loves to deflect responsibility to Canada whenever it suits them; however, I think they fail to realize at times that they are our voices in Ottawa and it is up to them to ensure that we are being heard. This involves being proactive, being vocal, being loud. Not waiting until it's convenient for the bureaucrats in Ottawa to find time. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

---Applause