GUEST COMMENT: A response to National Addictions Awareness Week

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by Raymond Pidzamecky, provides mental health support in NWT and Nunavut

Today marks the start of National Addictions Awareness Week, which runs Nov. 26 to Dec. 2.

Raymond Pidzamecky is a social worker with First Nations and Inuit in the NWT and Nunavut.
Raymond Pidzamecky is a social worker with First Nations and Inuit in the NWT and Nunavut.

To write this column I asked myself: what would I do if I were the premier? Here are some thoughts:

First, I would divide the Department of Health and Social Services in two to create a separate Department of Health. I think the current model is overburdened and in competition with itself. It is simply too much for one ministry and too much for one minster. I would create a new ministry that acknowledges the importance of child welfare: The Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services. I would remove child protection from the Health Department and place that under this ministry’s umbrella. This is called walking the talk. I would also create the Child Advocates Office for children under 19 years of age. This is long overdue.

Next, Education Employment and Culture. We have a crisis of sorts in the NWT. The territory has one of the lowest secondary school graduation rates in Canada. I would remove income support and move it to the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services. Next, I would move Culture out to a new ministry. Let education focus on graduating literate students. Northerners, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, must be our priority to turn back the impact of colonization and residential schools. Education is vital if we are to have a greater representation of Indigenous service providers and managers.

With regards to Aurora College, the social work program and teachers’ program should no longer be on the chopping block. We are not going to even look at a polytechnic institute until we improve our graduation rates and have enshrined both social work and teaching programs.

The last point on education is that school boards need the financial support to employ school-based graduate level psychologists, social workers and speech pathologists in addition to current child care workers.

Health needs to be tuned up. It concerns me when citizens refer to the term “Tylenol” therapy. When it comes to health care, we have lost the confidence of some of our citizens especially in our smaller communities. Although we have staffing issues, this cannot be our sole response. If we are to have meaningful interventions for drug and alcohol abuse, we need to start to compile post discharge statistics. Out of territory programs should be our second option. We need to have our own residential/on the land programs that everyone has access to. We also need to institute a comprehensive relapse prevention program that is not dependent on staff retention. A program that can provide structured support and intervention and can be picked up by any staff at any time when there is a staffing turnover. I am awed by the work and burden of responsibility that nurses demonstrate. We have always and most probably will continue to have a shortage of doctors. Locums are not the same as permanent doctors. I should add our current doctors are working as hard as they can. The nursing program and nurses offer the greatest single resource for improving health care.

As for the Department of Justice, I am pleased with some of its innovative program designs and applications.

Having said that, we still have one of the highest rates of violence against women and children. This is an ongoing crisis of extreme magnitude. One that we have yet to successfully address. There is one thing I would immediately cost out and that is pardons. There are an inordinate number of citizens with criminal records who cannot afford a pardon which affects their ability to find work and their self-esteem. I would ask that the authorities develop a screening model and cost analysis for financial assistance for pardons. The action that would have the greatest impact on this group of individuals’ mental health and employability, is to provide pardons free of charge for those that qualify. This becomes more apparent when we cost out income support for people unemployable due to criminal records.

Lastly, I would create a Ministry of Indigenous Culture and Language. I can’t tell you what that would look like for I am not Indigenous.

These are, respectfully, some of my thoughts and suggestions regarding mental health and addictions from a systems perspective.

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