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Health Department denies social workers are being forced to rush home

Three communities in Yukon are short resident social workers after two people left their positions this month.

Three communities in Yukon are short resident social workers after two people left their positions this month.

But the Department of Health and Social Services denies that staff are being forced to rush back to Whitehorse to avoid overtime, as NDP critic Jan Stick told the legislature this week.

“I’m hearing from some communities that in fact they are lucky to have a social worker come to their community for more than an hour or two a few times a month,” she said.

Health Minister Mike Nixon responded that social worker positions outside Whitehorse were fully staffed, except for one person on maternity leave. But his department later confirmed that two social workers left jobs in the communities this month.

When fully staffed, 12 social workers live and work in communities outside of Whitehorse.

One of the two social workers in Ross River is on maternity leave, spokesperson Pat Living said.

In November, the only social workers in Haines Junction and Mayo both left their positions. Living did not know if they quit, retired or moved to a different job.

The Haines Junction position has been filled and the new social worker is starting in less than four weeks, she said.

The Mayo position is being temporarily covered by the social workers in Dawson City.

If a community doesn’t have its own social worker or the department is trying to fill vacant positions, mobile social workers can travel to see people in the communities.

Living denied that those social workers are being made to rush back to Whitehorse to avoid overtime.

“These people are not forced to drive home at the end of the day if it’s not feasible,” she said.

If it’s too late in the day or the road conditions are bad, social workers are encouraged to stay in the community and drive the next day during regular business hours, Living said. Staff are not paid overtime if they stay overnight but the department pays a per diem and covers the cost of a place to stay, she said.

It’s difficult to say how often a travelling social worker might visit a community, Living said. In some cases it might be one day a week and in others it’s less frequently, but for longer periods of time, she said. If there is a crisis in the community the social worker will come more often, she said.

Rural Yukon social workers work with a total of between 350 and 450 clients outside Whitehorse.

Contact Ashley Joannou at