8-1-1 health advice line launches in the NWT

Last modified: November 9, 2022 at 2:02pm


The 8-1-1 line that NWT residents used during the pandemic to get answers to their Covid-19 questions is now a health advice line number.

While the territory’s Covid-19 Secretariat was decommissioned on April 1, the 8-1-1 helpline was preserved until June 30 so people could continue to reach out with Covid-19 questions.

At the time, health minister Julie Green said her department was looking at what other information could be provided via the 8-1-1 phone number.

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The answer is health information and advice, which will now be available 24 hours a day, every day of the year, just like what is already offered across the rest of the country at the same number.

When you call the toll-free 8-1-1 number, you’ll be connected to a registered nurse who can answer questions about basic health issues and advice on managing certain symptoms. If they need to, nurses will refer callers to local health centres or hospitals for treatment.

“In unusual situations, you may have to wait up to 30 minutes to talk to a nurse. This is still probably quicker than the time it would take to talk to a local nurse or doctor. Of course, if you have an emergency – or think you do – you should seek help within your community right away,” the territorial government said.

While the nurses will not diagnose people over the phone, they can provide advice and next steps for seeking treatment. The GNWT provided a list of example questions and symptoms people can call about on its website.

The number is different from 9-1-1, the NWT’s health department stressed, saying anyone facing a medical emergency should still immediately call the 9-1-1 emergency number or go directly to a health centre. The 8-1-1 line is also different than the NWT Helpline – which currently offers support to people calling the 1 (800) 661-0844 about things like suicidal thought, assault, abuse, depression, and anxiety – and Canada’a upcoming 9-8-8 line, which will also offer mental health crisis and suicide prevention services as of November 30, 2023.

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Like 9-1-1, the service is available in all of the NWT’s official languages thanks to a service provided by a company called CanTalk which provides 24/7 interpretation. 

“If you need interpretation services, the nurse contacts CanTalk. A three-way connection is established, usually within 45 seconds, and the interpreter stays on the line during the entire call,” said the GNWT on its website.

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There are also options for residents who are deaf, hard of hearing, or speech impaired. They can use the Canada Video Relay Service and call 1 (844) 259-1793, the toll-free number associated with 8-1-1, to access health advice.

Since the GNWT doesn’t have enough nurses to handle health advice calls, it has contracted out the work to a company that has over 200 nurses working out of Newfoundland. The company also provides 8-1-1 services to other provinces in Canada, though the nurses who answer NWT calls will all be registered through the Registered Nurses Association of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut.

“These nurses have specialized training and use trusted, symptom-based algorithms for telehealth advice that are used in 95 percent of health call centres. They also use a computer database that tells them which health and support services are available in NWT communities. This means nurses provide high-quality health advice tailored to the needs of NWT callers,” the GNWT reassured, adding all of the nurses have also completed the GNWT’s Living Well Together cultural sensitivity training.

The territorial health department cautioned the 8-1-1- number may not work if people calling from a cell phone have wifi calling turned on.