N.W.T. gov't to offer medical escorts to all pregnant women travelling to give birth

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Expectant mothers in the Northwest Territories who have to travel outside of their home community to give birth will no longer have to go alone, following an immediate policy change from the territory's health department.

Starting today, pregnant women under the Non-Insured Health Benefits (NIHB) program, the N.W.T.'s Mé​tis Health Benefits Policy and the territory's Medical Travel Policy will be eligible to be supported by one non-medical escort. The change applies to both Indigenous and non-Indigenous residents.

"We felt that this was important," said Glen Abernethy, the Northwest Territories' health minister. "We knew this was coming. We wanted to make it immediately available, rather than waiting for the confirmation of the exact policy Health Canada was going to be putting into place. So I directed the department to move on it immediately."

Last week, Health Canada announced it would be making changes to the NIHB program for Inuit and First Nations, funding non-medical escorts for pregnant Indigenous women. 

It was not immediately clear how the change would impact northerners. At the time, the N.W.T. health department said it was working with Health Canada to develop policy guidelines to support the change. 

According to a news release issued Tuesday by the territorial government, Health Canada has not yet clarified the guidelines for the NIHB benefit. However, in the meantime, the territorial government will create an interim measure allowing for a non-medical escort for expectant mothers 14 days before their due date.

Abernethy says that the costs to cover the policy change will initially come from within the health department, but that they will "possibly be looking for some additional dollars once we have a better sense of what the ongoing costs are going to be."

Once Health Canada "provides final direction," the release reads, the territory's policy will be updated.