The NWT's health authority says there is no truth to the recent suggestion that Fort Smith's health centre is to be redesignated.
According to the minutes of a town council meeting in November, RCMP in Fort Smith had reported to councillors that the health centre's designation may be changing from "hospital" to "health centre" – to the surprise of councillors in attendance.
Cpl Chris MacDonald told town councillors he had received notice of the upcoming change, the minutes stated.
“[He] noted that it is unofficial, but the RCMP have been advised that it will be happening, but it has just not been determined as to when this will happen,” noted the minutes.
Approached by Cabin Radio, the territory's health authority said no such alteration was planned.
"There has been no change to the designation of the facility or the services offered, and there are no plans to change the designation of the Fort Smith Health and Social Services Centre," wrote spokesperson David Maguire.
RCMP had expressed concern that if a change in designation took place, Fort Smith's health centre would “no longer be able to house mental health patients for a specific amount of time, and those patients would need to be medevaced out of the community," according to the meeting minutes.
The minutes state MacDonald felt such a change would require more RCMP resources to guard patients, as he had understood the health centre would no longer be able to use a "secure room."
Maguire, the health authority spokesperson, said Fort Smith will still have the capacity to treat and admit patients depending on their condition.
Maguire said Fort Smith's health centre is known as a "C" designated facility in the terminology of the Canadian Standards Association.
This means, he said, "ambulatory patients are accommodated on the basis of medical need; are provided with non-invasive medical services for diagnosis, treatment, or therapy; and stay for no more than 12 hours."
Maguire continued: "For patients with more serious concerns the focus would be on stabilizing patients and moving them to a facility that provides the higher level of care they require, often in Yellowknife or Edmonton. On occasion, some patients would be admitted and stay in the health centre for shorter periods of time when appropriate."
According to the territory's regulations governing hospital and health centre standards, a hospital "provides one or more health services to inpatients and outpatients" while a health centre only provides health services to outpatients.
Inpatients are those admitted to receive health care and given a bed.
'No official communication'
An RCMP spokesperson said the officer in charge of the district is on duty travel this week and could not be reached. Where the concern regarding a potential redesignation originated is not clear.
At the November meeting, Councillor Chris Westwell said the Town of Fort Smith had received no official communication from the NWT's health authority.
Westwell, who said he could not comment on behalf of council, told Cabin Radio this week he felt the designation of the health centre remained "a mystery to local leadership" and a "persistent rumour."
"At this point I would love to hear the government either confirm or deny if they plan to further reduce community health services in favour of more centralized health solutions," said Westwell.
"Normally such water cooler chit-chat and rumour wouldn’t be given such direct attention, but ... people in positions that would be affected by a further reduction of health services seemed to be unofficially informed of an impending reduction."
MLA challenges RCMP over meeting
Thebacha MLA Frieda Martselos, reached by phone on Tuesday, told Cabin Radio: "As far as I'm concerned, there is no change in designation at the hospital. There are no job losses."
Martselos said if there was going to be a change, then health minister Diane Thom would have told her. Instead, Martselos said Thom had assured her there would be no job losses at the health centre.
"The RCMP have no right to go to town council and report a rumour to town council without proper process being followed, because that is not a true statement," Martselos said.
"The RCMP should be doing their job in Fort Smith," she continued. "There has not been a drug bust in Fort Smith for over 20 years and they should be doing their own jobs."