Reproductive health clinic to open in the fall

After years of being dreamed up over lunchtime meetings and volunteer hours, the Yukon's first reproductive health clinic is scheduled to open this fall. 

After years of being dreamed up over lunchtime meetings and volunteer hours, the Yukon’s first reproductive health clinic is scheduled to open this fall.

The clinic is the brainchild of longtime Whitehorse MD Dr. Stephanie Buchanan and an army of doctors, nurses and non-profit groups who have pushed the project into reality.

Buchanan, who has been in the territory for the last 11 years, says there was an “obvious black hole in the community” when it comes to this type of health care.

If a woman doesn’t have a family doctor, getting basic reproductive care like birth control pills or pap smears can be a real challenge, she said.

It can mean waiting in a walk-in clinic or even the emergency room just to get a prescription.

The new clinic will offer these services, through nurse practitioner Michelle Wolsky, along with services like options counselling once a woman is pregnant, testing for sexually transmitted infections and information on contraceptives.

“It’s more or less a place where people will be treated by experts who have expertise in all manner of sexual health, reproductive health, pregnancy tests, STI checks, counselling around unexpected pregnancy, counselling around an STI diagnoses,” Buchanan said.

The clinic will be run two days a week starting in September, out of Whitehorse Medical Services on Lambert Street.

It’s open to everyone, though Buchanan said the target audience is specifically younger people.

That’s the group that has the hardest time accessing a primary care doctor or may be uncomfortable asking these kinds of questions to a doctor who has known them their entire life, she said.

“In our very stifling society, sex is not on the radar for people. So when they do start to have sexual health needs there isn’t a real open venue sometimes, and it depends on your family,” she said.

“Young people are who we really want to access (but) we will not turn anyone away.”

That’s partly why the clinic will have evening hours as well.

“Evening hours are key,” she said. “You’re not going to get your population if you’re not open in the evening, because so many people who are working are not going to have that availability.”

Though most women in the Yukon can get different types of birth control covered through health insurance, Buchanan said the clinic is also working on a fund to help subsidize the cost for those who can’t afford it.

For example, birth control pills might cost $10 a month from the clinic, as opposed to the normal $35 a month.

Giving women the option of birth control beyond a condom is in everyone’s best interest, she said.

Subsidized birth control has been shown to lower the number of unexpected pregnancies and even lower the rate of sexually transmitted infections, thanks to the education that comes with a prescription, she said.

“It would be a real tragedy if this clinic was up and barriers still existed for women to access a form of birth control that was going to work for her,” Buchanan said.

As a nurse practitioner, Wolsky is able to write prescriptions, diagnose and perform tests as well as refer patients to other medical professionals.

She says having these services available in a clinic setting is the best financial choice for everyone involved.

“An emergency room is the most expensive place to access primary health care. So in terms of just cost savings, having your reproductive health care needs met at a clinic setting is much more cost effective than sitting for six hours for a birth control prescription in emerge,” she said.

“What that also does is it helps create relationships. You might come one time for your birth control, then you come back because you have a question, then you come back because maybe you’ve decided now’s the time to get pregnant, or whatever happens with your reproductive health.”

It’s only in recent years that Wolsky has even been able to practice what she is trained to do. Yukon was the nation’s last jurisdiction to grant licences to nursing professionals like her.

Nurse practitioner legislation was tabled in 2012. The first nurse was registered in 2013.

“This sort of model is a brand new model for the Yukon,” Wolsky said, “which is really exciting because it means that the whole idea of how to deliver health care is starting to shift. Which is good.”

Buchanan said it has taken five or six years of serious lobbying by volunteers to get the clinic off the ground, though it’s something that has been needed in the territory since the ‘80s.

“This is all off the side of our desks at lunch time…completely volunteer to try and make this happen, and that’s hard for anyone.”

The need for a sexual health clinic was just “not on the government’s agenda,” she said.

The money for the clinic wouldn’t have actually been available, was it not for Wolsky’s position.

The cash is coming from a fund jointly administered by the Department of Health and Social Services and the Yukon Medical Association designed to fund collaborative care.

For now, the money is only guaranteed for three years. After that the contract will have to be renegotiated.

Buchanan and Wolsky want the clinic to become a central hub for sexual health, sexual information, education and outreach across the territory.

“People’s sexual health is absolutely a tenet of our well being,” Buchanan said.

Contact Ashley Joannou at

ashleyj@yukon-news.com

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