Nunatsiaq News
NEWS: Nunavut March 01, 2016 - 10:00 am

Nunavut government spent no money on ASIST trainers last year

“If ASIST is to survive and flourish in Nunavut, we’ll need more ASIST trainers"

Isabelle Dingemans, an ASIST program coordinator at the time, displays a
Isabelle Dingemans, an ASIST program coordinator at the time, displays a "Suicide First Aid" card that participants received after they completed an ASIST workshop in November 2013. (PHOTO BY DAVID MURPHY)

The Government of Nunavut neither committed nor sought money to train instructors for the Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training program during the 2015-16 fiscal year, despite a longstanding and urgent need for qualified trainers to teach the program.

That’s according to a document tabled by Health Minister Paul Okalik in the territorial legislature Feb. 24.

The document answers questions posed in the assembly by South Baffin MLA David Joanasie on Nov. 5, 2015.

“Currently there is no allocated budget to support the delivery of ASIST Training for Trainers courses,” Okalik said in the document.

And the GN hasn’t held any such courses since 2012, Okalik said.

Joanasie asked if the GN sought any funding outside of its own budget for the training program.

“There are no alternate funding sources at this time,” Okalik said.

The GN’s proposed budget for 2016-17 includes the promise of a one-year, fully-funded suicide prevention action plan, but the promise doesn’t include a financial commitment nor specify the plan’s components.

But the GN has promised to implement all recommendations drafted by the jurors of a special coroner’s inquest into Nunavut’s high suicide rates held last September, and has taken a number of steps to do so, including:

• declaring suicide in Nunavut a “crisis”;

• establishing a Quality of Life Committee to oversee the implementation of a suicide prevention plan; and,

• appointing Okalik as the minister in charge of the plan’s implementation.

But Joanasie pointed out in the legislature Nov. 2, 2015, that a report entered into evidence at the suicide inquest indicated “an urgent need to train more people in ASIST.”

“If ASIST is to survive and flourish in Nunavut, we’ll need more ASIST trainers. We’ll need to build better networks of trainers in all three regions,” Joanasie said.

The shortage of ASIST trainers is largely due to the GN’s lack of long-term stable funding for the delivery of the program, Maureen Doherty, the director of health and wellness programs at Nunavut Arctic College, told Nunatsiaq News in November 2015.

Nunavut Arctic College took over the program’s delivery in 2013.

But it is unclear if that stable long-term funding will be part of the 2016-17 budget or the budget’s promise of a one-year fully-funded suicide prevention action plan.

“We’re extremely hopeful that the plan will translate into training for trainers, that’s certainly the hope. But I haven’t heard of any specifics of the budget,” Doherty told Nunatsiaq News Feb. 29.

According to figures provided by Okalik’s written response, a five-day training for ASIST trainers course held in Iqaluit costs about $3,300 per participant, not including related costs such as training space, travel and accommodations.

After the training course, trainers are required to assist in the delivery of two ASIST workshops, which brings the total estimated cost per participant to more than $16,000, according to Okalik.

New trainers are then required to deliver one to three of their own workshops before becoming registered trainers, capable of training others to deliver the ASIST workshop.

Between 2009 and 2015, 62 people completed the training for trainers program, 29 of which went on to become registered trainers, Okalik wrote.

But there have been no such programs held by the GN since 2012.

“No Training for Trainers courses are currently planned for 2015-16,” Okalik wrote. 

Funding for the suicide prevention plan does not appear in the main estimates budget that MLAs are looking at during their current sitting.

But on Feb. 26, Okalik said in committee of the whole, in response to questions from Tom Sammortuk, the MLA for Rankin Inlet North-Chesterfield Inlet, that he is working on supplementary funding to pay for the GN’s commitments under a new suicide prevention action plan.

“I became the minister responsible for suicide prevention in November, so we didn’t have time to submit a budget during this cycle. I will be providing a supplementary appropriation in the spring session. I look forward to more discussions on it at that time. We’re working on it and we will come forward with a submission,” Okalik said.

A supplementary appropriation is a bill that asks MLAs to approve extra spending outside the main budget.

Okalik also said Feb. 26 that there are two ASIST trainers in Nunavut at the moment.

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