Construction of a new health centre in Fort Simpson, N.W.T., won’t start until 2025 at the earliest, according to the territorial government.
Sean Whelly, the village mayor, said the community has been waiting for a new facility for years. Health officials said planning work could begin in the 2022-23 financial year if MLAs approve the project.
Based on the timelines of similar projects, the territory's Department of Health and Social Services said the work could take about seven years, from 2022 until 2029.
“In Fort Simpson, we’ve been getting told for 15 or 16 years that we could expect a new health centre,” Whelly said.
“We’ve been overlooked completely, nobody’s ever really adequately explained that.”
The territorial government said the “severity” of this year’s flood affected planning for the new centre.
“The situation necessitates careful consideration of the proposed project,” Umesh Sutendra, a spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Services, said in an email.
“The existing infrastructure that was previously thought to be relatively safe from a flood event has now been determined as vulnerable and, as a result, we need to re-evaluate the plan for the project.”
In 2015, the CBC reported a planned Fort Simpson health centre had been expected to open in 2016 but was instead pushed back until at least the early 2020s.
In October 2016, then-health minister Glen Abernethy told Nahendeh MLA Shane Thompson a planning study for the new health centre was under way. Abernethy said at the time the centre "remains a priority."
Whelly feels most communities in the N.W.T. have seen improvements to health centres but Fort Simpson has ben left behind.
He said an updated centre is important because it could offer upgraded equipment for specialized care and more space.
“It’s small, it’s not up to date," he said of the existing building. "From the outside it looks like maybe it’s a fair-sized facility, but what you have to remember is a lot of it belongs to the Elders' long-term facility, and there’s also a lot of offices in there.
“There’s only maybe several rooms with any amount of equipment in it.
“We would have gotten a superior level of equipment and care with the upgraded facility.”
After this year's floods, the Village of Fort Simpson is examining the prospect of moving all important buildings off the flood-prone island.
Whelly wants a new health centre built on higher ground. At the peak of this year’s flooding, the existing health centre was forced to close and a temporary location opened in a safer area.
The mayor said the Elders' facility needs to move, too, as "you don't want to have to be removing them off the island every spring and putting them through the stress of having to move to different communities."
Whelly said evacuees sent to Norman Wells during May's flooding “really noticed the difference” between the town's new facility, which opened in 2018, and the building in Fort Simpson.
He remains skeptical of the territory's commitment to a new facility.
“Seriously, I don’t think – based off that letter – I’d be making plans for a new health centre here in 2029,” he said.
“I think that was just a general forecast of what possibly could be, but not necessarily what’s going to be.
"There has to be a lot more commitment and focus put into this by the territorial government to bring us up to the same level as everybody else.”
Sarah Sibley, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Cabin Radio