Over the last six months or so, the GNWT and K’atl’odeeche First Nation have been in talks about reopening the Nats’ejee Keh treatment centre in Hay River, a discussion that has been temporarily put on hold since the Department of Health and Social Services (HSS) denied KFN the requested finances to develop a plan for a revitalized wellness facility.
HSS Minister Glen Abernethy said the territorial government was not prepared to “re-enter or re-establish a treatment centre in that particular facility due to several factors.
“In 2013, the executive director advised that no further intakes should take place, primarily due to the risks in client safety,” he said, noting that recommendations to amend safety risks were made as early as 2011 following an organizational review. “Because they weren’t doing any intake, the department notified the board that we would no longer be renewing the contract. As a result, we did enter into contract with four southern facilities to provide facility-based treatment.”
Abernethy further explained that the four centres provide a range of services currently not available in the Northwest Territories due to capacity issues. At any given time, about 12 people are using the Alberta-based facilities; over the last year, 109 people have been admitted, as had 174 the year before that.
Comparatively, the cost of sending those who need treatment south is less than what was needed for patients at Nats’ejee Keh, the difference being $155 versus $420 per person per day.
However, some KFN members are not happy with the GNWT’s response and are still calling for a healing facility in the North.
I will commit to working with the community to find a use for that facility that will benefit all people…
“We have gone from having detox centres and four treatment centres, of which Nats’ejee Keh was considered one of the best in North America with a 43-per-cent success rate, to having no treatment available in the NWT at all,” Chief Roy Fabian said in a press release.
The release stated the band had drafted a proposal to “meaningfully include all regions in the NWT in the development of a plan that would include training and support for clients as they wait for a ‘spot’ in a southern treatment institution; support to interrupt the addiction cycle that has resulted from decades of post-traumatic stress disorder; and support to communities offering on the land addictions programs.”
The band was given $44,000 to hold meetings and to come up with a plan, Abernethy said.
“After those meetings a lot of good ideas were represented,” he noted. “Wellness centres, a training centre, a spiritual centre, a home-base for mobile treatment, these types of things.”
Ultimately, Abernethy said, KFN presented a $190,000 plan to develop a proposal, a price tag he was not willing to pay. Instead, the GNWT offered another $20,000 to develop a proposal, an amount that “insulted” the KFN members.
“We can only assume that the Department of Health and Social Services does not want to work collaboratively to find real solutions,” Fabian said. “They offered us $20,000 to do a job that would cost 10 times that if meaningful programs are to be phased in with support from all regions. The GNWT knows how much these initiatives cost. It was a real slap in the face.”
A document asking HSS to pursue the possibility of opening an Aboriginal Wellness Centre attached to Stanton Hospital was tabled in the Legislative Assembly last week. At this time, no other treatment facility projects are being proposed within the territory.
Throughout last week’s session, MLAs Alfred Moses and Michael Nadli echoed Fabian’s concerns, while questioning Abernethy on the future of recovery and treatment centres in the North.
“Our Standing Committee on Social Programs did a tour on one of our bills and we constantly heard the need for a treatment centre here in the Northwest Territories,” Moses said.
He acknowledged the limited availability of on-the-land wellness programming and alternative resources. “There’s been a lot of underlying issues, and it’s not only alcohol addictions, but we also deal with grief, we deal with trauma and, more importantly, residential school and the experiences people have had with those.”
He described a lengthy process patients must go through to attend the southern treatment centres, sometimes needing up to four sessions with counsellors before being moved to said treatment facility, a process that can be longer or even non-accessible to people living in smaller communities.
“We have modified our referral process, it’s now an expedited referral process so we can get people into treatment when they’re ready in 24 to 48 hours,” Abernethy said, addressing the issue.
“I’m not going to commit to reopening Nats’ejee K’eh,” he said. “I will commit to working with the community to find a use for that facility that will benefit all people, something like a wellness centre, a training centre for mental health and addictions, or a home location for what will be our mobile treatment option at some point in the future, but not reopen it as a treatment facility again because we’ve failed and we’ll continue to fail.”