Mushkegowuk residents could see big improvements in their health care services as the federal government transfers responsibility of the hospital in Moose Factory to a Native-controlled health board.

“We’ll be seeing an increased emphasis on patient care, the hiring of more Native staff and a more culturally relevant kind of health care system,” said Fred Hunter, executive director of the Weeneebayko Health Ahtuskaywin (Board).

The board will look at introducing new services not offered when the federal government ran the hospital.

For example—more translation services, a local hostel for visiting patients, social services for discharged patients to follow up on their health and a less institutionalized environment within the hospital.

“It’s exciting and it’s quite a big task,” said Hunter.

The transfer agreement, reached last fall, will see the health board take over the day-to-day operations of the Moose Factory General Hospital and its services. It will also transfer all the hospital’s staff, who will now work for the board.

“The hospital will continue to provide the same health care services,” said Hunter. “It will look similar to what it was, but not too similar.”

The health transfer came about after years of negotiations that started back in 1986 by Mushkegowuk Chiefs, who wanted to see Natives assume responsibility for the Moose Factory General Hospital.

At that time a regional health board was established to act as an advisor, but it stayed at arm’s length in terms of having a say in the operations of the hospital. Some health services have already been transferred to Native control.

Currently, about 106 people are employed under the board, about half of the hospital’s workers. The transfer will be complete by October, said Hunter.

The board is also currently negotiating with the unions for nurses and federal civil servants for their transfer under the board.

“This spring, the federal government will give lay off notices for its public and contract workers. The workers will have six months to decide whether or not to transfer under the board.”

Hunter said the nurses and civil servants will be given the same benefit packages as under their old contracts and that unions will be recognized. He added that the status Indians working for the board will now be tax-exempt.

But before the employees are to transfer, the board will evaluate each employee on past job performance. This has made some employees nervous over possible lay-offs.

At a recent meeting of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, which represents federal civil servants, the union was told that only 95 per cent of employees will be rehired.

“We’re a bit worried about that remaining five per cent and we’re dealing with it,” said Elmer Cheechoo of the Public Service Alliance.

The Weeneebayko Health Board will also be signing new contracts with Queen’s University for doctors to provide services to the hospital.

Although the transfer is going to a Native health board, the hospital will continue to receive its $12 million in funding from the federal government, Hunter said.

“We still want to maintain a relationship with the federal government because of their obligation to status Indians and don’t want to let them off the hook because health care is an Aboriginal and treaty right,” said Hunter.

As part of the transfer, the hospital will come under the Public Hospital Act and work with provincial resources.

But Hunter stressed that all health care services which people were getting before the transfer will continue to exist. And that both insurable and non-insurable health care benefits will still be covered.