Actions and Commitments

Call to Action # 18: Health (18-24)

Indigenous patient advocates start work next week in the N.W.T.

February 15, 2023

Health minister also announces a new office of client experience

N.W.T. Health Minister Julie Green announced a new Indigenous patient advocates program and new office of client experience. The minister says new services will help residents navigate health care. (CBC News)

CBC News: N.W.T. Health Minister Julie Green has announced that the Indigenous Patient Advocates program has launched.  Green announced the program’s start in the legislature Tuesday and told members the program will help Indigenous residents and their families access cultural, spiritual, emotional and language supports. 

Green initially promised the program in June 2021 with the goal of seeing the advocates take their positions that year.  The Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authority (NTHSSA) was not immediately available to comment on what caused the program’s delay. 

Seven people in snow, with bright scarves.
A group shot of the team working at the Northwest Territories Health and Social Services Authority’s new office of client experience. (Submitted by NTHSSA)

Along with the Indigenous patient advocates, Green announced a new health and social services office of client experience. The office is slated to help residents navigate health systems and provide a point of contact for complaints or questions. 

For Inuvik Twin Lakes MLA Lesa Semmler, herself a former nurse, the new program was a long time coming.  “I heard concern after concern in regards to the health care of our constituents — communication barriers, travel mix-ups, escort concerns, feelings of lack of respect,” she told the House Tuesday.  “When we began our 2021-2022 budget deliberations, this was one ask I felt was important to add to our list of asks as regular MLAs.”

MLA Lesa Semmler, herself a former nurse, said she and regular MLAs persisted to create the program as a bridge between the healthcare system and Indigenous residents. (Natalie Pressman/CBC)

She said members persisted even after the program was at first rejected in deliberations.  “We knew how important it was to have a bridge from the healthcare system to the Indigenous residents of the Northwest Territories,” she said. “Someone who they could go to, someone who they could trust, someone that they know will hear them and, like their title says, advocate for them.”

New services follows series of misdiagnoses 

The program follows a series of misdiagnoses in N.W.T. health centres that have been causing concern for northerners for years. In 2016, an Inuvialuit woman said her uncle’s stroke was mistaken for drunkenness.   Six hours went by before the man could get a medevac from Aklavik to Inuvik, despite repeatedly saying he wasn’t drunk. Inuvik doctors said the swelling in the man’s brain was too extensive and his niece unplugged his life support shortly thereafter.  

In early 2022, Délı̨nę elder Morris Neyelle arranged his own flight to Yellowknife after his local health centre failed to diagnose a tumour the size of a soda can.  “Why have I been treated this way? Is it because I’m an Aboriginal person? That’s the question I ask myself,” Neyelle told CBC in March 2022.

Délı̨nę elder Morris Neyelle spent the final months of his life advocating for better healthcare in small N.W.T. communities. (Anna Desmarais/CBC)

Neyelle died last April and spent his final months advocating for better healthcare in smaller N.W.T. communities. 

In response to questions from Deh Cho MLA Ronald Bonnetrouge about those misdiagnoses specifically, Green said the new advocates and new client experience office do address that issue.   “[Those programs are] there to make sure that patients have a venue in which to make their concerns known and more importantly in some ways, have them resolved,” Green said Tuesday. “If the member knows of people who are suggesting that they haven’t been treated appropriately then I encourage him to provide them with the information for the office of client experience to resolve their issues.”

The office of client experience is now open, but since all members of the team are in training until Friday, NTHSSA spokesperson David Maguire said “there may be delays in getting back to people.” He said full services will resume on Monday Feb. 20 when staff return to their communities. 

There will be an Indigenous patient advocate in the Fort Smith Health Centre, the Hay River Health Centre, the Inuvik Regional Hospital and in Stanton Territorial Hospital in Yellowknife.  Maguire said advocates will still be available to people outside those facilities. Residents can contact the office of client experience at 1-855-846-9601 or by email at 


Natalie Pressman, Natalie Pressman is a reporter with CBC North in Yellowknife. Reach her at: