Health minister says no evaluation method for on-the-land treatment

NNSL file photo Nats'ejee K'eh Treatment Centre on the Hay River Reserve closed in September 2013 after the GNWT withdrew funding and refocused toward on-the-land programming and other treatment strategies.

NNSL file photo
Nats’ejee K’eh Treatment Centre on the Hay River Reserve closed in September 2013 after the GNWT withdrew funding and refocused toward on-the-land programming and other treatment strategies.

Almost three and a half years after the territorial government closed the Nats’ejee K’eh Treatment Centre on the Hay River Reserve – and replaced it partially with on-the-land programming – the government has no way to determine if those programs are effective.

“Bottom line is there’s a multiple range of programs that are out there, on-the-land programming being one,” said Health and Social Services Minister Glen Abernethy in the legislative assembly on Feb. 15. “We don’t currently have an evaluation mechanism to let us know or help us understand how effective these on-the-land programs are, but we’re currently working with a stakeholder group who is helping us design an evaluation program for on-the-land.”

Nats’ejee K’eh Treatment Centre closed on Sept. 30, 2013, after the Department of Health and Social Services pulled funding after it had operated for close to 20 years.

At the time, the government said it was moving toward on-the-land programming, mobile addictions treatment and residential treatment at centres in the south.

In his comments in the legislative assembly in response to questioning from Kam Lake MLA Kieron Testart, Abernethy said the number of NWT residents getting treatment in the south is going up under the current arrangement.

“What I can say is for the first time ever with an expedited referral process to these treatment centres with the high-quality program, the word is starting to get back to individuals who are struggling with addictions, and we’re actually for the first time seeing our numbers go up,” the minister said. “I had a briefing last week and we were able to confirm that over the last little while it’s been on average of 18 people from the Northwest Territories enrolling in treatment facilities.”

Testart asked about the “credentialism creep” at Nats’ejee K’eh that imposed very high standards of training and credentials, and potentially limited treatment options.

“Would it be possible to design something that is based not in Western understanding of addictions, but more traditional, indigenous-driven process that could be facility-based and potentially could be a service not just for our territory but for the entire North and indigenous peoples across Canada?” Testart asked.

Abernethy noted that, when it started, Nats’ejee K’eh was a cultural healing centre focused on traditional medicine and traditional healing, and it evolved into more of a clinical-based model.

“The clinical-based model does not work particularly well in the Northwest Territories due to economies of scale,” he said. “They can be effective when they have a psychologist or a psychiatrist. A small institution with a low demand can’t retain that type of professional.”

Abernethy said there have been conversations with K’atlodeeche First Nation about it taking over the closed centre to provide wellness programming to help people deal with some of the root causes of addictions but it wouldn’t be a traditional treatment facility.

“We think this is a great opportunity for our aboriginal residents who might be struggling with addictions or impacts of colonization or residential schools, but it wouldn’t be considered facility-based treatment,” the minister said.

–Paul Bickford