On Hay River health ‘Russian roulette,’ minister urges change

Glen Abernethy, the health and social services minister, is pictured at a government briefing in 2018
Glen Abernethy, the health and social services minister, is pictured at a government briefing in 2018. Ollie Williams/Cabin Radio

The NWT’s health minister said “systemic change is required” in Hay River after an MLA likened healthcare in the town to “Russian roulette.”

The minister, Glen Abernethy, agreed with Hay River North MLA RJ Simpson’s assessment that the town’s health authority needs urgent attention.

Abernethy, who announced on Sunday he will step down at this fall’s election, called on the next territorial government to ensure Hay River’s health authority is fully amalgamated into the public service – as has happened with most other regional authorities.

Abernethy said he had heard doctors and nurses say they would “love to go to Hay River – they think it’s a great community in a beautiful spot – but they don’t want to go there because they don’t want to leave the public service. The next government has to bring Hay River into the public service.”



Simpson had earlier described residents leaving his town amid what he termed a “worsening healthcare situation.”

Hay River’s health authority has experienced a persistent shortage of doctors in recent months, affecting staffing levels in April, May, July, and August.

People “have moved out of town because … they felt like they were playing Russian roulette by living in Hay River,” Simpson said in the legislature, claiming some residents were dealing with “life-long effects from serious injuries” because they had not received appropriate treatment.

Simpson said many residents had chosen to use family doctors in Alberta “for continuity” because Hay River was “forced to rely on a revolving door of locums and temporary employees.”



“I often hear they would love to stay in Hay River, but they don’t want to work for the health authority,” Simpson said.

“I have heard enough from past and present employees, and from the public, to know the ongoing problems at the authority need to be addressed.”

Abernethy, responding to questions from Simpson, said: “We are aware of the concerns and challenges facing the authority.

“I agree that some systemic change is required. The chief operating officer and public administrator are looking at bringing about some change in that organization.”

A timeline for that work was not specified.

The NWT used to have eight health authorities. Six of them combined to form the NWT Health and Social Services Authority in 2016, leaving just two others: Hay River’s health authority and the Tłı̨chǫ Community Services Agency.

“Recruiting family physicians is more challenging than ever before,” the Hay River health authority’s chief executive, Erin Griffiths, said in June.

“We are aware of the impact vacancies have to our community, and we continue to develop ways to improve.”