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$2 million needed to expand midwifery services in the NWT, says health minister

Health and Social Services Minister Julie Green says $2 million is needed to expand midwifery services, but the funding is not yet in the territorial budget. NNSL file photo

The GNWT wants to expand its midwifery services, including in Hay River, but it doesn't have the money to do it.

In the legislative assembly on Feb. 9, Health and Social Services Minister Julie Green said there is planning going on at the territorial level with the Hay River Health and Social Services Authority and the Tlicho Community Services Agency to expand the midwifery program.

"But to go from planning to hiring, we need $2 million," she said.

Green was responding to questions from Thebacha MLA Frieda Martselos, who asked if the department will fulfil all 10 recommendations resulting from consultations with midwifery stakeholders in 2017.

"What we have done to date with that report is completed five out of 10 recommendations," said the minister, while committing to provide an action item update on all 10 recommendations in June.

Green said that increased access to midwifery will not only enhance perinatal services for NWT residents and improve outcomes for mothers and babies, but also strengthen the delivery of culturally-sensitive primary care in the health system.

"We do, however, require an additional $2 million to implement phases two and three of the midwifery recommendations, and that money does not exist in our budget at this time," she said.

In her comments, Martselos said that Fort Smith and Hay River remain the only two NWT communities that offer midwifery services.

She pointed out that the GNWT accepted all 10 recommendations from the 2017 report, including strengthening the Hay River and Fort Smith programs, and establishing a territory-wide program to service Yellowknife as well as the Tlicho and Sahtu regions.

"Since then, two new positions were funded in 2019 to start up the territorial program in Yellowknife, but only one of them has been filled," Martselos said. "An additional part-time position has been funded for Hay River, but no further support has been provided to the Fort Smith program. Midwifery services have been a long time coming for most communities in the NWT."

In response to questions from Martselos, Green said her department is planning for the expansion of the midwifery program in a number of areas.

"Specifically in Hay River, there is the beginning of engagement with community, starting with Fort Resolution and then the communities of the Deh Cho to consult people on what they consider to be the most appropriate ways to extend midwifery care to families there," she said.

The minister added there are preliminary discussions taking place between the Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authority and the Tlicho Community Services Agency around the best ways to expand access to midwifery care in Behchoko.

"There is also, as of a year ago, a new territorial midwifery manager who is working at the territorial level looking at how services can be expanded, and a second position will be accompanying that initial one," Green said. "The anticipated hiring date is the fall of this year."