The Yukon Party’s health critic will be closely watching how the territorial government handles a backlog of unpaid physician bills — about 22,000 claims totalling more than $1 million — which the Official Opposition fears could turn away or stop doctors from coming to the territory to provide care.
Health and Social Services Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee said the Yukon government is “working diligently” to sort out the outstanding payments, which represent 5.2 per cent of fee-for-services claims in total.
Health was the topic of debate in the Yukon Legislative Assembly on the afternoon of April 6.
Yukon Party MLA for Lake Laberge Brad Cathers, who is the party’s health critic, requested a breakdown of how many times in the last year paramedics from Whitehorse were dispatched by air to provide service on the ground in rural communities.
The minister did not give that number in her response.
“In 2022, [emergency medical services] in Yukon communities had full coverage 68 per cent of the time, while [emergency medical services in] Dawson City and Watson Lake had full coverage approximately 95 per cent of the time or higher.”
In an April 11 email, Claire Robson, a health department spokesperson, said in 2022 there was one air ambulance dispatched to a community due to a lack of local coverage. So far this year no air ambulances have been dispatched due to a lack of local coverage.
Cathers asked about the government’s pledge for a walk-in clinic, which is a stipulation in the territorial Liberal-NDP confidence and supply agreement.
“After the minister previously made this commitment, then did the political version of a faceplant in the mud and not being able to deliver it, what reason do we have to believe that the model being developed is workable?” Cathers asked.
McPhee previously told reporters a walk-in clinic would open in spring 2022, but that plan fell through when those involved chose not to pursue the business model.
“I certainly hoped it would open. I was very careful and cautious, because the final arrangements had not been made, but I do agree that the plan that was pursued last year for a walk-in clinic to open did fail as a result of the participants not ultimately wanting to do so,” she said.
McPhee said the Yukon government will provide an update to Yukoners soon.
Bilingual health centre
When asked about the number of physicians hired to work at the bilingual health centre, McPhee said a local, bilingual doctor is providing consultative services to the clinic, in addition to their own practice elsewhere.
The clinic is currently staffed by two nurse practitioners, with a third hired and starting soon, as well as a registered nurse and an office medical assistant.
“Once fully staffed, the clinic’s staff complement will include one clinic manager, five nurse practitioners, one registered nurse, one licensed practical nurse, two medical office assistants, one social worker and one full-time physician. You can see that the concept is to provide wraparound care of a multitude of services for individuals who come there,” she said.
“The recruitment for the single, full-time physician and the other vacancies is actively underway.”
Cathers asked what the Yukon government is doing to make up for what he calls a $14.5-million hole in last fiscal year’s budget for the Yukon Hospital Corporation.
He has been regularly referring to when representatives from the hospital corporation appeared as witnesses in the legislature on Nov. 22, 2022. At the time, chief executive officer Jason Bilsky said the Yukon government’s operation and maintenance budget for 2022-23 is $103.5 million.
But, Cathers said, the hospital corporation only got $88.9 million, citing the supplementary budget.
In her response, McPhee said the core funding agreement equaled $88.2 million. She pointed to an additional more than $5.4 million in transfer payment agreements for other revenue outside of the core funding and $2.8 million in patient revenues that flowed through her department, as well as more than $9 million in revenue that is outside of her department. She said the hospital corporation believed its inflationary pressures came in at around $1.7 million last year.
“The hospital core funding for 2023-24 in this budget, as correctly noted by the member opposite, is to be $93.6 million, and the other transfer payment agreements for other revenue outside of that core are still to be determined. The patient revenue is still to be determined, and of course, the revenue outside of the Department of Health and Social Services is still to be determined,” she said.
“We begin with the core at the beginning of the fiscal year, which is five days old, I think, and, frankly, work going forward with the hospital corporation.”
Cathers argued the responsibility lies within the government to demonstrate the numbers when MLAs ask.
“If there is information beyond what is in the budget about what government has provided, or claims they provided, the onus is on government to show that information, not simply to assure members that they must have provided more resources, or question our ability to read the budget when we can, and have, and will continue to refer people to the pages in the budget that reflect those numbers,” he said.
“Again, the line item for Yukon hospital services contains substantially less than the amount of money that the minister claims they have been provided with by government for the fiscal year we are just wrapping up.”
Cathers said this fiscal year’s budget is $10 million less than the amount the hospital corporation representatives needed for last year. He asked how much the hospital corporation asked for this fiscal year.
McPhee said her department has “met or exceeded all funding requests” identified by the hospital corporation.
“I can indicate that some of what was included in their initial request were things that had not yet been approved by management board,” she said.
“One example was a request for operation funds for the new mental wellness clinic and unit that is going to be built. It is not yet built, so it was removed from the initial request. That made the request at approximately $91 million, as you can see from the 2023-24 budget. We have provided core funding from Yukon government to the Yukon Hospital Corporation for the beginning of the process in 2023-24 of $93.6 million.”
Cathers wasn’t having it.
“It is hard to believe that the government has actually met the hospital’s needs for the 2022-23 fiscal year. I do appreciate the minister acknowledging that there are some additional amounts that are not reflected in the budget,” he said.
“I continue to be concerned, deputy chair, and I would invite the minister to actually provide the evidence that they provided the hospital with more resources than shown in last year’s budget.”
Contact Dana Hatherly at email@example.com