Caroline Wawzonek at the NWT's legislature in October 2019. Sarah Pruys/Cabin Radio
A system that gives vulnerable people straightforward access to help they need – by demolishing bureaucratic barriers – is so well-received, it’s getting more funding.
Yet the popularity of integrated case management, as the system is known, has left at least one NWT MLA wondering when other communities will have the same access as Yellowknife, Ndilo, and Dettah.
The system works using “pathfinders” – members of staff who help people navigate a labyrinth of paperwork and programs related to justice, health, social services, education, and housing.
The people most needing the system’s help are those who have multiple problems involving a range of those agencies. Rather than being left to approach each individually, clients are guided by the pathfinders, who ensure departments talk to each other and get things done.
A pilot of the system has been operational in Yellowknife and the surrounding area since 2015 – initially identifying potential clients by analyzing which people spent more time involved with emergency services than anyone else.
So far, integrated case management is widely considered a success. For example, in early 2018, RCMP said the system had contributed to a reduction in calls to police the previous year.
Last week, in a clear endorsement of the system and its results, the new NWT government’s first budget committed $827,000 to turn integrated case management from a pilot into a permanent program.
However, that money isn’t enough to introduce the system elsewhere in the NWT.
Scrutinizing the system’s funding in the legislature on Monday, Thebacha MLA Frieda Martselos – representing Fort Smith – said: “I just want to remind the minister that there are a lot of qualified people in other communities, also, besides Yellowknife.”
Martselos continued: “Doing something a little bit differently to ensure that we get the same service as the people of Yellowknife is essential. I think we are not asking for very much. It’s a right.”
Martselos has routinely highlighted perceived discrepancies between Yellowknife and other communities since her election in October. On this occasion, the justice minister agreed that integrated case management deserved to be implemented across the NWT.
The problem, said Caroline Wawzonek, is there’s no money to do that.
“I would love to see integrated case management rolled out everywhere,” the minister told Martselos.
“I am a tremendous supporter of this program. Realistically, it is not going to be within the budget … to establish new offices with these kinds of services in different communities.”
Not everyone currently using integrated case management is considered by the NWT government to be from the Yellowknife area.
Answering questions from Kam Lake MLA Caitlin Cleveland on Monday, Wawzonek said 55 percent of the system’s current users – around 135 people – were either born and raised in Yellowknife or have lived there for at least five years.
The other 45 percent, the minister said, are considered to be from NWT communities other than Yellowknife.
“They don’t necessarily need to be a resident of Yellowknife,” Wawzonek said. “Acceptance is based more on a referral.
“I’ve been told stories directly about individuals who have continued to receive services through the integrated case management program even when they have returned to their home communities.”
Nevertheless, the minister said she would consider ways to give the system more of a presence in more communities.
“I am committed to finding some solutions,” she said, suggesting integrated case management workers in Yellowknife could work more closely with government service offices – the NWT’s one-stop bureaucracy shops established in some smaller communities.
“The GNWT in general, right now, is taking an approach of trying to move to more integrated services and more integrated service delivery,” said Wawzonek.
“That’s about the best I can say right now. There is a broad level of commitment to improving this kind of service across communities and across services.
“As far as the integrated case management program, specifically, there is not a set plan to expand it at this time.”