The NWT lags behind Nunavut in constructing an addictions treatment centre and Monfwi MLA Jackson Lafferty is demanding to know why.
In the latest of several discussions on a treatment centre since the 19th Legislative Assembly returned on Oct. 15, Lafferty asked Health Minister Julie Green how Nunavut could secure $50 million in federal funding for a centre while the NWT hasn’t.
Green conceded that the NWT isn’t at the same stage as Nunavut with developing a centre, after the neighbouring territory in 2019 secured millions of dollars in federal funding to build a centre in Iqaluit.
Lafferty pointed to a recommendation in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) that calls for federal funding for “Aboriginal healing centres” in Nunavut and the NWT.
“I’m dismayed,” Lafferty said.
“I’m disappointed that we’re at this stage after almost five years. The TRC recommendations came out and here we are still talking. Without delay we should be approaching Ottawa for the same funding (that Nunavut received).”
Green admitted she didn’t know how Nunavut secured the funding, but said she would look into the matter, prompting Lafferty to say he was surprised and shocked that she didn’t have that information.
The health minister responded by saying that “what’s truly surprising and shocking is that this issue did not come out during our mandate priority setting exercise, not a word about an addictions or healing centre at that time.”
Green also suggested that the initiative to establish an NWT treatment centre could come from Indigenous governments and isn’t just up to the GNWT.
“Indigenous governments and Indigenous government organizations could band together
to write a proposal for federal funding for a healing centre and to have some focus around
what kind of services they want in that centre and where the centre will be located,” she said.
Green laid out some of the context behind the four treatment centres the NWT has had in the last couple decades and how the current approach is more effective.
Nats’ejee K’eh, the NWT’s last treatment centre, closed in 2013 and since then the Department of Health and Social Services (HSS) has drawn up contracts with four facilities in Alberta and British Columbia for Northerners seeking treatment.
“The cost of operating Nats’ejee K’eh when it closed in 2013 was about $2.1 million a year. The current fiscal year budget for out-of-territory addictions treatment is $2.1 million, with an anticipated spend this year of $2.3 million,” Green said.
In Nats’ejee K’eh’s final full year of operations, 133 people attended treatment there, while over the past six years about 228 attend the southern centres each year.
Occupancy at Nats’ejee K’eh cost around $522 per day per client, but HSS’ current contracts for treatment range between $180 per day to $452 per day.
Turning to the issue of after care for people who completed treatment programs, Green said confidentiality is important to many people and unlike at Nats’ejee K’eh, people who attend southern centres can restart their sober lives outside the NWT where know fewer people.
“We also have locations in different parts of Alberta and B.C. and one in Toronto so people can choose where they want to go,” Green said. “(At) some of the locations Indigenous values are driving care such as at Poundmaker’s and Thorpe (in Alberta). We believe that what we have on offer now presents a wide range of options for residents of the NWT.”
The role of housing in after care is another key issue, Green said, and people don’t want to return to overcrowded housing in the North.
“They were living on a couch and that kind of thing. What they really wanted was a house of their own. Not necessarily even a house but an apartment of their own,” Green said, adding that addressing housing could help people return to the North and maintain their sobriety.
Green said a survey would be prepared early next year for people who attended treatment centres in the South to determine what has worked for them so as to build up best practices.