The Government of Nunavut and RCMP sent nine representatives to attend a special Hamlet of Pangnirtung council meeting May 22 after the community’s appeal for help to three GN departments earlier this month.
The hamlet’s plea came after a rash of suicide attempts and an upsurge of violent incidents in the community.
“They’ve agreed to have a working group with the hamlet and a few of the (GN/RCMP) people locally to look at trying to address some of the issues that we brought forth,” said Pangnirtung’s senior administrative officer Ron Ladd.
The meeting was very productive, director of communications for the GN’s Department of Executive and Intergovernmental Affairs Catriona Macleod stated in an e-mail.
Council made a presentation to its visitors.
“Currently people seeking urgent support in Pangnirtung either do not receive the support they need and/or they do not get the support they need in a timely fashion. Evidence for this is that, as a rule, individuals go in vicious circles from crisis to crisis,” council stated.
“The current system is fragmented and uncoordinated and therefore not effective in providing multi-disciplinary support.”
The solutions the hamlet suggests echo some jury recommendations from the 2015 inquest into the high rate of suicide in the territory, and are also similar to action items in the 34-page Inuusivut Anninaqtuq Action Plan 2017 to 2022, the third action plan deriving from the Nunavut Suicide Prevention Strategy.
The Department of Health’s Quality of Life Secretariat, which oversees Inuusivut Anninaqtuq for the GN, did not send representatives.
However, Macleod noted the Cabinet Committee on Quality of Life – which consists of the premier and ministers of Health, Housing, Education and Family Services – “is planning to meet soon to discuss this situation as well as territory-wide priorities to ensure the needs of all Nunavummiut are addressed.”
Community states needs
The hamlet is calling for an integrated and coordinated approach to helping people in need. Council wants to see the old health centre renovated into an “urgency support centre” specifically for people requiring urgent support, with offices for government and community support services, an emergency shelter, a soup kitchen and a child-care facility, all under one roof. It also seeks the resources necessary to reopen the youth centre with programs for youth and a place to meet.
Further, council is advocating for a person-centered approach rather than the system-centered approach now in use by the GN.
“Mayor and council think that old health care building here that’s been sitting empty for eight years can be used as an interagency building, and have everybody linked,” said Ladd.
Council believes its plan would reduce suicide, substance abuse, family violence, and the number of individuals requiring medical care or medevacs for mental health and medical emergencies, as well as a reduction in law-enforcement and legal services costs.
It also stated its model would lead to improved gathering and analysis of statistics to ascertain measurable outcomes and to identify areas for further research or support.
The community does have an informal interagency group, which started up late last year.
“To get everyone around the table on the issues,” said Ladd, adding the hamlet is not driving it.
“The hamlet is not responsible for health. The hamlet is not responsible for education. (Those are) GN responsibilities. The hamlet does hamlet business, it’s not responsible for GN responsibilities.”
At one recent meeting, the interagency group discussed the suicide attempts in the community.
“The Department of Health decided they would go door-to-door and get all the Tylenol – because that’s what was happening, a lot of kids were taking Tylenol – and all the medication that wasn’t supposed to be there, what was old, out of the houses. At the same time the RCMP went around with them and gave free trigger locks for guns,” he said.
The group is completely independent of the hamlet, but the hamlet gets invited if the group wants to talk about by-law enforcement or other hamlet-related items.
Ladd says the interagency group asks itself what it can do as individuals to help combat what needs combatting.
But it’s not enough, and that’s why the hamlet turned to the GN.
Department of Justice assistant deputy minister Riita Strickland, speaking on behalf of her department as well as Family Services and Health, read from a prepared document at the special council meeting, Ladd said.
“She had the other departments do a paragraph or two,” said Ladd. “It was a document in response to our document.”
Nunavut News requested the document, but the Department of Justice did not provide it, nor did it respond to several questions by press deadline.
Opportunity for a new model
“There was definitely an understanding of the issues. They did bring in nine senior people,” Ladd said.
They included Health’s director of mental health Victoria Madsen, acting regional director of health programs Charleen Austin and director of population health Malcolm Ranta, Family Services’ director of poverty reduction Deatra Walsh and regional director Donald Mearns, Justice’s public safety advisor Lisa Tootoo, and RCMP Chief Supt. Mike Jeffrey and Sgt. Mark Crowther.
Council asked for more resource staff: an additional social worker; one or two additional mental health workers specifically to provide counselling to individuals with PTSD, adverse childhood experiences and addictions; an additional RCMP officer; an additional by-law officer; a life-skills coach; a manager for the proposed urgency support centre; and around-the-clock security staff for the proposed centre.
According to Ladd, Strickland told hamlet council there are two vacant nursing positions, two vacant Family Services positions, and three vacant casual positions.
“The Department of Family Services has two active staffing competitions in Pangnirtung to fill vacancies for a supervisor of children and family services position and a community social services worker trainee position,” stated deputy minister Yvonne Niego by e-mail. “These positions were advertised. The department expects these positions to be filled in the coming months.”
Macleod said the GN would provide an update after the cabinet committee meets.
Ladd said hamlet council realizes it’s not only their community in distress.
“Obviously, our stats are up … but we’re not the only community. But this is an opportunity for a new model,” he said.
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