There was a joyous celebration in Moricetown this morning to mark the launch of a $2.7-million new health centre which community leaders say will help reduce the need for travel to Smithers.
Established by the Moricetown Band, with funding from the First Nations Health Authority, the new building will house 15 existing staff.
A nurse practitioner and assistant will also be hired later this year so the centre can offer most of the services of a normal doctor’s office.
The new building has 15 rooms, which will be used to deliver family counselling, mental health and addictions services, community health, dental care and patient travel assistance.
It also has a consultation room where the nurse practitioner will work, and a new laboratory to accommodate visiting pharmacists.
Health care services for the Wet’suwet’en community, which has a population of about 800 on-reserve according to the Moricetown Band, were previously delivered from a series of separate trailers and offices.
Staff this morning offered tours of the new facility before elders dressed in their traditional regalia to officially launch the building.
People crowded around the entrance with smartphones and cameras, ducking and kneeling to get a clear view of the elders as they cut the ribbon.
Two women smiled for a selfie outside the building before the ceremony, where Prince George woman Candice George also led a celebratory drumming song.
Moricetown Health director Ron Mitchell said today’s launch was the culmination of about 15 years of talks and about six years of planning.
He said employing the nurse practitioner in partnership with Northern Health would reduce the need for residents to travel to Smithers for treatment.
“[Travel] is a concern, there’s some elders and some young people on limited income and they don’t have vehicles,” said Mitchell.
He said residents currently had to pay other community members between $30-40 for a return trip to Smithers unless they caught the Northern Health bus, but that service does not run daily.
Having a staff of 17 would also be a significant upgrade for the community compared with the health care it received historically, he said.
“That’s a far cry from the ’70s and ’80s where we had two people, the nurse came to visit and they had a community health representative working and that was it for health,” said Mitchell.
Moricetown Band deputy chief Sheri Green said the new location on Beaver Road would be more accessible for seniors.
She also mentioned reducing travel to other communities as a major benefit of having the new centre.
“Even Smithers can be a long trek for people so being able to have a facility that can accommodate having specialists come to the community also makes the a difference,” said Green.