Bring back health boards, say communities in Canada’s eastern Arctic

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Some communities in Canada’s northern territory of Nunavut say they want regional health boards to be revived, in the hopes of fixing the region’s ailing health-care system.

The Nunavut Association of Municipalities says it has lost confidence in the territory’s health-care system, and it wants to meet with Health Minister Tagak Curley to discuss solutions.

Recent health reports have highlighted the poor state of health among Nunavummiut, from widespread dental problems to high rates of tuberculosis and respiratory illness.

“It’s just absurdity on top of absurdity,” Ron Mongeau, the senior administrative officer in Pangnirtung, Nunavut, told CBC News.

“We’ve got a system that’s unresponsive, you have no input into the system.”

The association is calling on the government to bring back regional health boards, which were phased out after the territory was created in 1999 in part to save money.

The Department of Health and Social Services took over the regional boards’ responsibilities, but acting mayor Paul Quassa of Igloolik, Nunavut, said the health-care system is broken today.

“Overall, we’re saying we are not getting those services as well as other Canadians would expect,” Quassa said.

Local decisions

Mongeau said the regional health boards were effective in delivering health care, as they allowed communities to make their own health-related decisions.

“Move away, I think, from government delivering health care and look for ways and means to put people in charge of the health-care system — which, again, I stress is the norm across most of the country,” he said.

Mongeau said other health-care solutions are obvious, such as encouraging more doctors and nurses to work in Nunavut and hiring fewer temporary nurses from agencies outside the territory.

“Certainly communities like Pond Inlet, Igloolik, Pangnirtung [and] Cape Dorset have the population to support doctors. In one swoop, there is one way we can immediately impact the health of people in the communities,” he said.

A government spokesperson told CBC News that the Department of Health and Social Services is aware of the association’s request and will be responding directly to its members soon.

For more on the health crisis in the North, visit Eye on the Arctic’s ARCTIC HEALTH SERIES.

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