Cuts to women’s health creates void in NWT, says Centre for Northern Families

Cuts to women’s health creates void in NWT, says Centre for Northern Families

Six women’s health organizations across the country felt the blade when the 2012 federal budget axe fell last week. Now one women’s health facility in the Northwest Territories dreads the coming loss of an important partner in providing health services to Aboriginal clients.

The BC Centre of Excellence for Women’s Health (BCCEWH) was one of six women’s health organizations across Canada receiving notice that their Women’s Health Contribution Program funding ends March 31, 2013.

A partner of the Centre for Northern Families (CNF) in Yellowknife, BCCEWH provided research and best practices for delivering health services to women, specifically Aboriginal women.
They often gave guidance to the CNF, which provides health services through clinics, outreach workers, family support, and child and youth programs in Yellowknife.

Arlene Hache, a community activist and Order of Canada recipient currently transitioning out of her role as executive director of CNF, said losing the assistance of the BC women’s health centre will be “devastating.”

“They were the closest partnership we had, and still have at the moment,” she said. “They were an incredibly close partner working with us in the territories to define and describe how services need to be different for First Nations, Métis and Inuit women.”

Hache said the organization, which focused closely on FASD prevention, gave CNF consultation on how to effectively provide programs and services for Aboriginal clients, which she said differ greatly from the mainstream.

“We’ve for sure, in our practice here, felt pretty alone and not sure if we were on the right track because we realized – I mean, I’ve been around 30 years – that the way of interacting with First Nations, Métis and Inuit in terms of health services has not been effective,” Hache said. “And so we need to know and kind of monitor how our approaches are working or not working.”

Hache said similar support was also received from the National Aboriginal Health Organization (NAHO), the Native Women’s Association of Canada and Pauktuutit (the Inuit women’s association), all of whom lost their health funding in the latest series of cuts from Health Canada.

Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq has stated that none of the $200 million in ongoing cuts to health programs in the country will be made to frontline services, and added that $30 million will go to Aboriginal health research within the Canadian Institute for Health Research.

But Hache is pessimistic that the funding subtracted from research is actually going to be put into frontline services, rather than other government priorities.

“I am not confident that they’re going to shift that money into direct services, not at all. Even if they were, they would direct it into their services, meaning government services, which have proven not to be effective,” she said. “Plus, there’s a real lack of understanding that you need both – you can’t do good frontline health services unless you have the proper information to do it. So generally, I find, depending on the government of the day, they switch from one pendulum to the next, and they never really create a balanced environment so that we can proceed at a steady pace. We’re always in one crisis or another.”

She said the tear in CNF’s support network comes at a time when health and mental health services in the NWT need as much help as they can get.

“People across the North are really concerned about mental health services and about the spiral that we are in that really has escalated in terms of violence related to mental health issues. That loss at this time really quadruples that risk,” she said. “Even with the level of resources that we did have dedicated to frontline services and research, we were almost on a sinking ship. So we would look to increase resources dedicated to health care, not a decrease.”

Along with BCCEWH, the Canadian Women’s Health Network, the Atlantic Centre of Excellence for Women’s Health, the Prairie Women’s Health Centre of Excellence and the National Network on Environments and Women’s Health have all received cuts through the termination of the Women’s Health Contribution Program.

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