Hay River's health centre. Ollie Williams/Cabin Radio
The NWT’s health minister says the time is right to look again at bringing Hay River into the territory-wide health authority.
Julie Green’s comments were sparked by Hay River South MLA Rocky Simpson asking what barriers exist to incorporating Hay River’s health authority into the NWT Health and Social Services Authority, known as NTHSSA.
Simpson hopes bringing Hay River into the fold would make it easier to retain healthcare staff in the town.
NTHSSA was formed in 2016 when the Beaufort Delta, Sahtu, Dehcho, Fort Smith, Yellowknife and Stanton Territorial health authorities were amalgamated.
Hay River’s health authority remained separate (as did the Tłįchǫ Community Services Agency) in part as it had a separate collective agreement with its staff. At the time, officials said the cost associated with including Hay River in the territorial health authority would have been around $20 million.
“The government of the day decided it was beyond its capacity to accommodate that,” said Green last week of the steep price tag.
“I think the time has come to strike again a working group to look at what the cost would be, so that the next government can make an informed decision about this.”
Green said legislation allows for Hay River to join, but work would need to be done with regulators, pension providers, and the Hay River health authority itself to determine an updated cost estimate.
“There would need to be negotiations with the Union of Northern Workers because they hold the collective agreement with the health authority staff. And then there would probably need to be some work done on job evaluations and job descriptions and so on,” the minister said.
“So it is quite a comprehensive list of things to be done.”
Green said the first step would be for Hay River’s health authority to formally ask to join NTHSSA.
Hay River’s health authority and the Union of Northern Workers have been negotiating since 2022 to replace a collective agreement for 240 staff that expired in 2021.
Green said there have already been some “favourable changes” since the amalgamation was last discussed regarding pension liability.
“My understanding is that the pension is now in a much more positive position. So it’s likely that that number has gone down,” she said of the $20-million quote in 2015.
Determining the present cost of amalgamation – and whether this is something the GNWT wants to do – is a decision for the next government, Green said, as the territorial election is just over a month away.
In the meantime, she said, Hay River remains “part of an integrated health and social services system in the NWT where people from Hay River receive treatment anywhere else in the Northwest Territories, and vice versa.
“There’s no loss of service, including recruitment of doctors to Hay River Health and Social Services Authority. Functionally, we are one healthcare system – but formally we are separate.”