Nunavut mental health facility in Iqaluit offers more space, better programs
Iqaluit DEA okay with location near high school
By next March, Iqaluit’s former Tammaativvik patient boarding will open its doors as the new Akausisarvik territorial mental health facility, whose clients mainly suffer from schizophrenia.
Akausisarvik’s goal: to rehabilitate those clients and allow them to function with the right supports as independently as they can in the community, said Monte Kehler, director of support services at the Government of Nunavut’s department of health and social services, at a Dec. 3 news conference in Iqaluit.
But the new mental health facility is located right beside Inuksuk High School, and, to allay any concerns, health department officials recently met with Iqaluit’s district education authority, Kehler said.
“We do have the support of the DEA to move the building there,” he said, adding that “the clients being served are not in a crisis or receiving addictions treatment.”
“They’re not what we would expect to be any more worse than any other program that we’ve been running out of that building.”
But there have been concerns from parents about the clients who will live at Akausisarvik, said Andrew Tagak Sr., chair of the Iqaluit DEA.
“Since I’ve been here, these people, they are walking around town already, and they’re not dangerous, but we just wanted to be sure that nothing was going to happen between them and the high school,” Tagak said.
Then, the DEA learned that the new a facility “was going to be manned 24-7, there was going to be security, cameras, everything.”
Overall, the DEA is satisfied with the planned security measures.
“We decided that the mental health people need that building because there’s nothing else,” Tagak said.
As for the $2.4 million renovation project, “it’s taken longer than we originally anticipated,” Kehler said Dec. 3.
Currently, Akausisarvik’s programs run out of a much smaller building near Iqaluit’s hospital that can house 10 residents. A sole psychiatric nurse also serves as the facility’s manager.
“It’s a building we’d like to get out of as soon as we can. It’s not well designed for residential care,” Kehler said.
The new location will allow for more programs and more staff — two more psychiatric nurses, three wellness counselors, and a cook.
As well, there will be five more beds for residential clients, rooms that are better designed for group counselling, and five new offices, Kehler said.
And, as another plus, the new space will allow for the introduction of more day programs.
Meanwhile, the renovation work in the new building, which was also once used as a residence for high school students from smaller Baffin communities studying in Iqaluit, isn’t major – not a lot of walls are changing, but there are a lot of smaller scale things such as flooring and wall coverings that need to be changed.
“There’s a lot of minor things that are happening and so that adds up and that’s what made it a capital project,” Kehler said.
A previous timeline showed the project finishing by this month, “but we realized that the materials that needed to be ordered up… there’s just more lead time on that that will take us to the end of March 2013,” Kehler said.
When asked about how improved programs in the new location will help with the territory’s suicide prevention initiatives, Kehler said he’s starting meetings with Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. on how to do that.
“We’ll be enhancing some of the coordination between the programs doing more education in the community, [and] providing ASIST [suicide intervention] training,” he said.
Kehler said Nunavut’s health department will also work with the RCMP and regional Inuit organizations “to improve our mental health services in a way that will effect suicide prevention.”
The move to the new building will be a “springboard for making changes,” Kehler said, adding that the move is parallel to Iqaluit’s mental health services being improved.
“Akausisarvik will have a role to play in how that happens,” he said.