Centre delivers services close to home

“We are overly dependent on southern facilities”


The Tukisigiarvik Centre, the first stop for Iqalungmiut who need help but don’t know where to turn, officially opened last Saturday in its new home in building 523 opposite the Baffin Regional Hospital in Iqaluit.

“No question is too large or too small,” says a brochure describing the centre’s many services, which range from healing to practical help.

Tukisigiarvik’s staff, counsellors Annie Quirke and Pitsula Akavak, and elder advisors, are ready to assist with such issues as homelessness, family problems, parenting, anger management, traditional skills and dealing with government or potential employers.

Managed by a board of directors, Tukisigiarvik is a community-based organization, which, because of its arms-length distance from the government, can receive money from a variety of sources.

It’s the kind of place Nunavut’s health and social services department wants to see more of, not because it’s cheaper, but because it offers services that are better if only because they are closer to home.

A children’s rehabilitation team will set up an office next door in the same building to provide special needs services across the Baffin.

And, in a couple of months, there will be a family clinic, staffed by three family practice doctors, and two nurses across the street.

This cluster of services is all part of a new strategy the health and social services department is promoting to bring services closer to the clients they serve.

“Closer care is the major strategy that will engulf the department over the next five to seven years,” said Bernie Blais, deputy minister of the health and social services department. “We are overly dependent on southern facilities.”

Blais said research shows people recover better when they’re treated closer to home.

“It’s more important here than in any other jurisdiction I can think of because the health status that currently exists here in Nunavut is one of the lowest in the country.”

Better outcomes will also mean more satisfaction with health care in Nunavut and more opportunities for local employment – a factor that’s important in improving general health.

“Education and training becomes a cornerstone of this new direction,” he said.

At the same time, repatriation of services allows better control of expenses such as transport and housing costs for patients.

Blais said continuing to send people south for medical treatment isn’t sustainable over the long term. Medical travel is mainly responsible for the department’s huge deficit.

“We issued 20,000 airline tickets last year. We had 60,000 boarding home days out of territory, that’s nearly two and a half times the population of Nunavut,” he said.

Having a new plan and direction should also help the GN to argue for more money from Ottawa.

“Words on a piece of a paper are great, but the best way to deliver change is to have a plan and to do it over a period of time that is achievable. This is a five- to seven-year transformation,” he said.

Repatriating services and grouping them together may also help retain medical personnel.

“We have to develop a reputation as a territory, a good place for people to come,” he said.

“If we can stabilize by having a good vision of the future, know that we are going to be committed to care closer to home, and have a series of priorities that are going to support all of that and if education and training is a cornerstone, we can improve it.”

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