Few concrete promises at health care town hall

A town hall meeting hosted by the Yukon Registered Nurses Association Tuesday saw candidates from all three major parties talk at length about their platforms, while offering little in the way of specifics.

A town hall meeting hosted by the Yukon Registered Nurses Association Tuesday saw candidates from all three major parties talk at length about their platforms, while offering little in the way of specifics.

In the end, questions from the audience brought by medical professionals proved to be most interesting.

All candidates pledged more “collaborative” health care and to sit down with various groups to work on different issues.

It didn’t help that candidates each had five minutes to answer four questions they were given in advance.

Very little differentiated the NDP’s Jan Stick, the Yukon Party’s Doug Graham and Liberal Tracy McPhee.

Graham served as health minister for four years. Stick has been the official opposition’s health critic, and McPhee is the territory’s former ombudsman and privacy commissioner.

The topic of nurse practitioners came up often. Nurse practitioners have more training than registered nurses and can prescribe medication, make diagnoses, and order tests.

But until 2013, they couldn’t practise in the Yukon. The first nurse practitioner was licensed in April that year.

Raquel de Queiroz, one of the territory’s five nurse practitioners, asked the candidates about the barriers nurse practitioners still face.

“There are numbers of things that fall within our scope of practice but because of political reasons we can’t do,” she said. For example, to refer patients to a specialist, she said nurse practitioners need a doctor to sign off.

Graham spoke about the negotiations that took place with other medical practitioners when nurse practitioner legislation was passed.

“Each time you expand the scope of one medical profession, you’re intruding on what has been traditionally on the scope of another profession,” he said.

Ultimately politicians can only make legislative changes, he said, and the medical community has to make it work.

Stick agreed consulting the medical community was important, though added “at some point it has to get done.”

Failing to make sufficient use of trained health care professionals is costly to the territory, she said.

McPhee insisted it isn’t enough to enact legislative changes. The government has to focus on the outcome. In this case, nurse practitioners legislation was supposed to ease some of the workload for emergency room staff and doctors.

Similarly the president of the Yukon Pharmacists Association asked about changing legislation so pharmacists could have more power to adjust or substitute medication depending on the patient’s need and to refill prescriptions.

All candidates pledged to sit down to talk about it.

A paramedic talked about his day-to-day encounters with addicts and homeless people.

“On a daily basis I see a failure to manage patients’ needs properly,” he said.

Graham cited the recent opening of the new Sarah Steele detox centre building, the construction of the new Salvation Army building and low-cost housing initiatives with the Ta’an Kwach’an Council as measures to deal with homelessness and addictions.

“Buildings don’t provide services,” McPhee responded. She emphasized the need for more programming and better housing.

Stick came back to a promise she’s made before: housing-first initiatives. Under that model, people in precarious housing situations don’t have to be sober to qualify for housing.

“To be well they need a safe place to live,” she said.

Graham announced the Yukon Party would unveil a tax credit for people who take care of loved ones, but didn’t offer any details.

In general, the parties have yet to release their entire health-care platforms.

The Yukon Party announced last week it would work towards a “made-in-Yukon” autism strategy.

On Tuesday the NDP announced it would invest $2 million over five years to improve home care. That amounts to an additional 45,000 hours of service over that time.

At the announcement, however, Hanson wasn’t able to say what percentage increase that would be.

The Department of Health and Social Services told the News $6.3 million has been set aside for home care. The entire continuing care budget is $41 million.

At the town hall, Graham also pledged to extend home care.

On the fiscal front, McPhee proposed flashcard reports, to inform Yukoners on how health-care dollars were spent.

The Whistle Bend continuing care facility also came up. Stick said the first 150-bed phase would go ahead, but said the NDP would look at cancelling the second phase.

Graham accused the NDP of wanting to cancel the entire project, calling the statement “ridiculous.”

There are long wait times for continuing care beds right now, he said.

All candidates also committed to work to reduce nurse staffing shortages in the communities.

Last July the government approved a new collective agreement with the Yukon Employees Union, adding more nurses in Beaver Creek and Destruction Bay. But outside of summer, each station will only be staffed by one nurse, with a second one rotating between both communities.

The Green Party couldn’t send a candidate to the debate.

The YRNA, which is remaining non-partisan during the election, said it would offer transportation for people on voting day. For more information visit yrna.ca.

Contact Pierre Chauvin at pierre.chauvin@yukon-news.com

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