North

Fort Smith residents call for better health-care service amid staff shortage

Residents in Fort Smith, N.W.T., are asking local and territorial politicians to think about new ways to deliver better health care to small communities. The calls come after the health authority said there's a shortage of health-care providers in January.

Fort Smith has shortage of health-care providers in January, says health authority

Denise Yuhas, a business owner in Fort Smith, N.W.T., is calling on local and territorial politicians to re-imagine how communities could deliver health-care services. (Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada)

Residents of Fort Smith, N.W.T., are calling on local and territorial government leaders to address gaps in their health care. 

The Northwest Territories Health And Social Services Authority released a statement on Facebook earlier this week that there will be a shortage of health-care providers for the entire month of January because of "unforeseen circumstances." 

The authority warns that non-urgent appointments could be postponed to later in the year. The agency did not immediately respond to CBC's request for comment. 

'It's nothing new'

Denise Yuhas, a business owner in Fort Smith, said she wasn't surprised by the news. 

"It's nothing new here or anywhere in the North," Yuhas said. "There's a strain on the system everywhere and we need to think about how we deliver services to our communities." 

Don Jaque, the former publisher of Northern Journal, says it's time for health-care decisions to be given back to towns like Fort Smith. (Submitted)

Fort Smith was forced to close down its medical clinic for two weeks in August 2018 because of a similar doctor shortage. At the time, representatives from the health authority blamed vacations during the summer season for the delays. 

Don Jaque, former editor of the local Northern Journal newspaper, said there needs to be a conversation with local and regional politicians to figure out better ways of providing care to small communities. 

"This isn't just a Fort Smith issue, this is a territorial issue," Jaque said. "If I was still running my newspaper, I would have a long conversation with [politicians] about how our health-care system is broken ... and how we can stop the bleeding that's going on." 

No decision-making in communities

The territory's health-care reform started in 2014 under then-minister Glen Abernethy. Some regional health-care authorities were later collapsed into the Northwest Territories Health And Social Services Authority, which is overseen in Yellowknife. 

The new system was supposed to create a unified approach to healthcare in the territory, but Jaque said it doesn't work for centres outside of Yellowknife. 

"Communities can't act on their own," Jaque said. He would rather see local governments take charge and do the work on the ground to recruit doctors.

Yuhas and Jaque agreed it could be time for territorial leaders to give physician recruitment back to the communities. 

"Decision-making is being made elsewhere," Yuhas said. "Maybe it's not the best way. Maybe it's time to rethink that decision." 

Fort Smith has a regional wellness council under the authority, which is tasked to look into health-care issues for the region. 

The council is actively talking about primary care reform, according to its most recent meeting agenda. 

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