Concerns over excessive wait times to see a mental health counsellor are falling on deaf ears, a Hay River MLA said in the Legislative Assembly.
On Feb. 22, Hay River North MLA R.J. Simpson told the legislature there is an eight-month wait list to see a mental health counsellor.
“That is completely unacceptable,” he said. “During my time as MLA, I have raised concerns about the availability and accessibility of mental health services in Hay River at every opportunity, but those concerns seem to be falling on deaf ears. An eight-month-long wait list is ridiculous.”
Simpson said the wait is more than two-and-a-half times longer than in Yellowknife, eight times longer than in Behchoko, and 20 to 30 times longer than in Fort Smith.
The MLA noted there are some same-day appointments available and those experiencing mental health emergencies are supposed to receive appointments within four weeks.
While agreeing that the wait times are unacceptable, Health and Social Services Minister Glen Abernethy disagreed that Simpson’s concerns are falling on deaf ears.
“I do not believe that to be the case and I think the staff in the authority and in the territorial authority are working hard to resolve some of these challenges and to improve services to the residents of Hay River, so I do take offence at indicating that these issues have fallen on deaf ears,” the minister said.
Abernethy noted the problem is caused by staff shortages.
The NWT Health and Social Services Authority has reached out to other NWT regions for assistance in Hay River, he said.
“Fort Smith has agreed to accept some of the referrals to help with the wait times. Fort Simpson has agreed to offer some level of clinical supervision until such time as we can hire somebody,” he said.
“Unfortunately, the rest of the NWT, when it comes to community counselling programs, are facing significant shortages as far as staff, as well, so this is a territorial issue.”
Hay River certainly has the longest wait times, said Abernethy. “But we are working hard to address that, and the territorial health authority is working closely and offering expertise and support from other regions.”
The minister noted there are about 55 people on the wait list in Hay River, adding the health authority is managing the list based on priority or a risk assessment process, and offering group programs.
“There are a number of things that are happening,” said Abernethy. “We are working hard to close this gap, and we will continue to do so.”