Association of Yukon Communities decries rural health centre staffing woes

Residents were notified earlier this month that the Destruction Bay health centre would be closed until July 24th, due to staff shortages. Health centres in Mayo and Pelly Crossing, Yukon, were also temporarily closed this month. (Paul Tukker/CBC)

The Association of Yukon Communities (AYC) says the territory has to think creatively to solve an ongoing shortage of health care workers.

“This is an issue we continue to hear from all of our members throughout rural Yukon,” said Ted Laking, a Whitehorse city councillor and president of the AYC.

“What we continue to hear from our members is that this is a big deal.”

Earlier this month, the Yukon government’s Department of Health and Social Services notified residents living in the communities of Mayo, Pelly Crossing and Destruction Bay that services at their local health centres would be temporarily reduced.

That prompted Dawna Hope, chief of the Na-Cho Nyäk Dun First Nation in Mayo, to write a letter to Health Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee decrying the lapse in medical services in her community, and saying it puts local residents at risk.

Laking followed with his own letter on behalf of the AYC to McPhee last week, echoing some of Hope’s concerns.

Laking said the AYC also raised similar concerns last year, but those seemed to fall on deaf ears.

“We did feel that last summer they sort of ignored the issue,” Laking told CBC News.

Laking suggests the need for “creative” solutions, such as allowing licensed practical nurses (LPNs) to provide care in some communities where registered nurses (RNs) are typically hired.

“I understand that there are shortages, it is tough to recruit, but if that’s the case then we should be looking, how do we change our retention bonuses? How to we change our compensation for nurses? How to we make this a very attractive jurisdiction to bring people into the communities?”

A Yukon government spokesperson declined an interview with CBC News until the minister is able to provide a direct response to the AYC, sometime in the coming days.

In a written response to Chief Hope last week, McPhee said service reductions at health centres are one way to prevent burnout among nurses in rural communities, and that emergency services in Mayo were also expanded to help soften the impact of the reductions.

“The Yukon continues to be impacted by the global, national and territorial health human resource challenges and we are taking action to recruit and retain health professionals,” McPhee’s statement reads.

“I am looking forward to learning more in the near future about tactics from the Yukon Health Human Resources Steering Committee, which is developing a strategy to address the health human resources challenges in the Yukon.”

With files from Chris MacIntyre

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: How a northern Canadian town went from 1 doctor to 11, in just 6 years, CBC News

Finland: Doctor shortage in South, patient shortage in North during Finland’s summer, YLE News

Sweden: Giving birth in a car: a real rural problem in Sweden, Radio Sweden

United States: Alarming number of patients at Alaskan psychiatric emergency room, Alaska Public Media

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