The health authority in Hay River, N.W.T., is defending its decision to demote some mental health counsellors and hire only people with at least a master’s degree.

The decision has angered some people in the community who fear the new counsellors lack knowledge of northern or aboriginal culture.

Three community counsellors were asked to change jobs or take a severance package – all three took the severance package.

Many who have had the same counsellors for years are now left waiting for the health authority to fill the empty positions.

Joletta Larocque, the director of Community and Continuing Care Services, said this change is an improvement in care for people.

She said people will continue to get the same care they have been getting. She added that more complex problems will now be taken care of by the new counsellors.

"The skills are different and there's counselling skills you need to be academically trained in. It's not something you can get from life experience," she said.

The health authority said it is moving quickly to fill the positions. They say they prefer candidates from the North but are also looking South.