On the spot
Sibbeston faces a tough crowd

by Arthur Milnes
Northern News Services

NNSL (Aug 01/97) - The first mistake Nick Sibbeston made was getting out of bed.

Mistake No. 2 came when he stood before a crowd of about 50 Fort Simpson and area residents gathered for a public information meeting on health and social services in the Deh Cho last week.

Armed with statistics and information concerning the changes to the Fort Simpson Hospital and Stanley Isiah Seniors Home, Sibbeston was greeted with raw -- and angry -- emotion.

"The minister (of Health, Kevin Ng) has come and lied to us," said Fort Simpson Mayor Norm Prevost. "I think this is a serious enough issue for everything to be slowed down."

"If he (Ng) doesn't want to do his job then I ask that the premier come here and explain and deal with the situation."

Prevost was angry that while the hospital is set to end its 24-hour operations Sept. 1, the new health centre won't be under construction for at least another year.

He also accused the GNWT of forcing Fort Simpson to react to government plans instead of participating in the decision-making process.

"You have the information and we're left scratching our heads and we're forced to react to you," he said. "(But) it's our hospital."

Former Liidli Koe First Nation's chief Herb Norwegian also took shots at Sibbeston's appointment to his current job, producing a passionate response from the public administrator.

"I think I'm the best person in Simpson to do the job," Sibbeston said. "I'm the best educated, I speak the language and I'm going to get the job done. Even if the process is wrong, what's wrong with me?"

"It was the politicians who shafted you, not me."

At issue is the GNWT's plans for health and social services in the Deh Cho. Highlights of the government's plans include: the hospital's change to a community health centre with an end to 24-hour hospital care as of Sept. 1; the eventual closure of the Stanley Isiah Seniors Home and the temporary move of long-term patients now in the hospital to the home until construction of the new health centre is completed.

Simpson residents loudly voiced concerns about losing their 24-hour hospital.

"If I go into a diabetic coma, you're telling me that when I get to the hospital, a security guard is going to meet me," Fort Simpson Rita Cazon said. "You're signing my death warrant."

Her comments were echoed by Deborah Stipdonk, a Fort Simpson mother.

"Unfortunately, a lot of the bruises, bumps and ear infections happen after 5 p.m.," she said. "I can look after most of them but I do that now knowing that I have nursing backup. Now I won't."

Deh Cho Health and Social Services staff replied that nurses would be on call throughout the night and that special training for security staff who would staff the health centre throughout evenings is being studied.

Catherine Praamsma, assistant deputy minister for the GNWT Department of Health and Social Services, did her best to reassure the crowd about the future of health services in the village.

"A lot of people have talked about the hospital closing," she said. "That is not going to happen. The same service you've been utilizing over the number of years will still be utilized."

Praamsma promised to take the message she heard during the four-hour meeting back to Yellowknife.

In the end, village councillor Lindsay Waugh pleaded for calm.

"The panel has to take to heart what they heard here tonight," he said. "We spoke from the heart. We're not saying stop it (the changes). We're saying we want to be part of it."