'Serious nature of the concerns' prompted Hugh Papik investigation: minister

N.W.T. Health Minister Glen Abernethy spoke with The Trailbreaker Thursday about what the investigation could yield, as well as the prevalence and impact of racism in the territory's healthcare system.

Review ordered after woman alleged racism in treatment of Aklavik elder

'In this case there are broader conditions that merit in my mind a broader review, including the serious nature of the concerns expressed in the media, and from other MLAs, and from residents across the N.W.T.' (Juanita Taylor/CBC)

The N.W.T. health minister says the "serious nature of the concerns expressed" over the care of an Aklavik elder who had a massive stroke, but whose niece says was mistaken as drunk, led him to call for a critical incident investigation. 

Glen Abernethy spoke with Juanita Taylor of CBC Radio's The Trailbreaker Thursday about what the investigation could yield, as well as the prevalence and impact of racism in the N.W.T. healthcare system. 

The following interview has been edited and condensed.

Q. What is a critical incident investigation?

As of Aug. 1, 2016, our Hospital Insurance and Health and Social Services Administration Act has gone live, and one of the clauses in that legislation allows us to do an investigation of any critical incident that is alleged to have occurred.

Q. Initially what we heard from the department was that "appropriate clinical practices" were followed in Mr. Papik's case. So why are you now calling for this particular investigation?

Under our Health Information Act, I can't talk about an individual case, and I do have every confidence in the CEO and the standard of care provided throughout our system.

However, in this case there are broader conditions that merit in my mind a broader review, including the serious nature of the concerns expressed in the media, and from other MLAs, and from residents across the N.W.T.

Q. Did the fact Mr. Papik has now died play a part in your decision to call for investigation?

I don't believe he'd passed away when I ordered an investigation.

Q.  What questions do you want to see answered through this external investigation?

The questions that we can ask under the legislation will have to focus on the care provided.

Q. How will it look at the care Mr Papik received, specifically?

It will dig into the file. I won't obviously be able to talk about the findings specific to the case, but under the new legislation I will be able to release any recommendations that are provided by the individual doing the external review.

This is different than in the past. In the past if we wanted to do an investigation we had to use the Evidence Act, which limited our ability to say or do anything.

Q. Mr. Papik's family says he didn't get the care he needed because of racism in the healthcare system. CBC spoke with the president of the Indigenous Physicians Association of Canada — Dr. Alika Lafontaine — who says racism is a problem in Canada.  Do you believe racism is a problem in the N.W.T. health system?

​We know this is a real issue, and our system is not immune, but I believe for the most part our front line practitioners are passionate, committed and provide excellent care to our residents.

That does not minimize this particular situation, which is why we have to do this investigation in my mind.

In Canada, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission called on all health systems across Canada to provide cultural competency training for all healthcare professionals. We have made this a priority within our system.

In a recent letter of assignment to the new chair to of the N.W.T. Health and Social Services Leadership Council, I directed that ensuring cultural competency throughout our system must be a priority.

We've done work to explore cultural competencies and find out how to apply them here, including working with Dr. Alika Lafontaine.

We've also put in place an Aboriginal and Community Wellness Division within the department of Health and Social Services.

It's one of the first divisions of its kind in Canada, and it's working with us to help bring this training into play. Many of these things are still in an early phase, but they're crucial and we're committed to making them happen.

Q. If the GNWT has done all this work, how did something like Mr. Papik's case happen?

The external investigation may tell us, but as I said, much of the work we're doing is in early development, and we need to get it out there.

I've had a chance to talk to Aboriginal leaders, and I've been asking them to work with us to find ways to encourage young Indigenous people to pursue health careers in the N.W.T.

We need our kids graduating, we need our kids going to school and pursuing these careers so they can come back to our region to provide care.

with files from Juanita Taylor and Joanne Stassen