Hay River MLA blasts ‘Russian roulette’ healthcare system in Hay River

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Hay River North MLA R.J. Simpson delivered a damning assessment of healthcare in the town during recent comments in the NWT Legislative Assembly.

“The residents of Hay River are gravely concerned about the state of the healthcare system in our community, and many believe that the situation is worsening,” he said on Aug. 12. “People are afraid to get sick or injured in Hay River.”

Simpson said it is hard to blame them.

R.J. Simpson outside his constituency office. NNSL file photo

“We’ve all heard the horror stories,” he said. “I know people who are living with the ongoing and, in some cases, lifelong effects of serious injuries like fractured skulls, broken necks, and broken backs, because, despite their best efforts, these injuries were not properly diagnosed in Hay River and they were eventually forced to seek care outside the territory.

“I know people who have been diagnosed with life-threatening conditions, but weren’t informed until years later.”

Simpson said he knows of people with serious but manageable medical conditions who have moved out of town because, based on their experiences with the healthcare system, they felt like they were playing Russian roulette by living in Hay River.

“In fact, many people who live in Hay River don’t actually use the local health services,” he said. “They have family doctors in Alberta that they see on a regular basis. That seems to be the only way people can see the same physician more than once, and that lack of continuity contributes to the problems that we’re facing.”

The MLA said some permanent physicians and nurses in Hay River are loved by the community.

“The problem is that they never seem to stay,” he said. “As a result, we’re always understaffed and, instead of having established medical teams who know patients’ histories and who can play off each other’s strengths, we’re forced to rely on a revolving door of locums and temporary employees.”

While noting that he does not want to disparage the Hay River Health and Social Services Authority, Simpson asked Health and Social Services Minister Glen Abernethy if the department is aware of systemic issues at the authority that contribute to the ongoing difficulties.

“We are aware of the concerns and the challenges facing the Hay River Health and Social Services Authority,” replied Abernethy. “I agree with the member that some systemic change is required in that authority. To that end, I know that the chief operating officer and the public administrator are looking at bringing about some change in that organization.”

Abernethy noted he has also asked the deputy minister of Health and Social Services and the chair of the Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authority to go to Hay River.

They will meet with the health authority to talk about opportunities to improve the overall management, care and delivery of health and social services.

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