Counselling changes making waves

Georgina Fabian began protesting the health authority’s changes to the community counselling department in from of the Don Stewart Recreation Centre last week on Oct. 29.
— Angele Cano/NNSL photo

Last week’s announcement of the restructuring of the health authority’s community counselling services is making waves in Hay River.

Georgina Fabian, a client of community counselling, stood outside the recreation centre on Oct. 29 to protest the changes. She said she was unhappy with the departure of her counsellor as a result of the impending restructuring and demotion of current counsellors. She said she was also speaking out for many others in similar positions.

“They should have warned us this was going to happen,” said Fabian. “My people are hurting and we need all the support we can get right now. There is a long list of residential school survivors in this community. Somebody in the community just died. A little girl tried to commit suicide. We need all the support we can get right now.”

Program co-ordinator Joletta Larocque admitted to surprise that current counsellors chose not to take the positions offered to them and conceded that juggling cases during the recruitment period would be a challenge.

“I’ll be honest, I’m sure there will be a bit of a slow down for a little bit,” said Larocque, “but there are no regrets. I trust this is the right thing for the community. We need both wellness workers and psychotherapists.”

Last week the Hub reported on the changes to be made to Community Counselling.

On Oct. 19, the authority unveiled its new staffing model for community counselling. The model included adding three new positions of masters level mental health and addictions counsellors, two community wellness workers, and one masters level clinical supervisor. The new model will be able to offer a wider array of counselling services, according to the authority.

“Not everyone works in the same scope of counselling,” she said. “Just as you have your RNs, your LPNs and your practical nurses – we call them all nurses, but to assume they have the same competencies is dangerous. This has nothing to do with the performance of our current counsellors. They are doing an excellent job providing supportive counselling.  But the community needs that extended scope of practice.”

As of last week, there were three experienced counsellors employed in the program with one spot vacant. Larocque said the authority was able to reallocate funds internally to pay for a fifth community counselling position. As per the union stipulations, current counsellors could not lose their jobs or have their salaries cut. They were all offered a new position as community wellness workers or could choose to take a severance package, said Larocque.

As of Nov. 2, two of the three counsellors notified the health authority they would not leave their current positions to take on the new position of community wellness worker.

The authority said it believes hiring new workers will be quick, citing a 30-day average turnaround for most recruitment. It is also expecting many applicants based on Fort Smith’s implementation of a similar program which received 25 applications from qualified candidates. The authority is also hoping local people will apply. Larocque said the current wait list has reduced from 75 to 30, and many existing clients are nearing completion with their programs.

Larocque said the authority faced a dilemma when adding the new positions. She said they wanted to inform the current staff of the upcoming plan in order to prepare them for upcoming changes, and then go through the recruitment process.

“We couldn’t start the recruitment process without giving them that notice,” said Larocque. “We would have liked to see them continue on. They all have skills sets and experience that would have been very valuable to the organization.”

The health authority has been looking at this new staffing model for the past year. The new structure is consistent with recommendations made in government commissioned reports released in
2002 and again in 2005.

Fabian expressed her discontent that she was given little notice that her current counsellor would no longer be handling her case. She said part of her efforts were to help give people a voice for the feelings of abandonment many people are feeling but that have gone
unspoken an unheard.

“I’m standing up here for all of the people that are hurting,” said Fabian. “I’m not going to sit by and push it under the rug anymore. Down south, people demonstrate for all sorts of reasons. “Up here, no one wants to cause too many problems and a lot of people like it
that way.”