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Rural mental wellness audit finds staffing shortages at new hubs

The report found improvements had been made but challenges remain
Minister of Health and Social Services Tracy-Anne McPhee photographed at a COVID-19 press conference in Whitehorse on June 9, 2020. (Alistair Maitland Photography)

An audit from the Auditor General on mental health services in rural Yukon has found improvements have been made, but challenges remain in supporting rural residents.

The audit was released on June 7 and examines both mental health care and addictions services in the 17 communities outside of Whitehorse.

Around one in five Yukoners experience mental wellness or substance use issues every year, according to the report.

“The availability of and accessibility to mental health services is vital for people living in these communities to live healthy lives: mentally, physically, socially and spiritually,” it reads.

Mental wellness hubs

The report found that the four “Mental Wellness and Substance Use hubs” established in 2018 in Dawson, Carmacks, Watson Lake and Haines Junction have improved access for rural Yukoners.

“Overall, the Department of Health and Social Services successfully increased access to mental health services in rural communities,” reads the report. “Though the department has increased access to mental health services, it has struggled to recruit and retain staff to deliver these services.”

The audit notes that the hub model allows for continuity in care and building relationships between health providers and the greater community.

Unfortunately, attracting and retaining the positions has still been a challenge. Right now there are 33 resident staff positions, but only 26 were filled as of August 2020. The audit looks at both housing shortages and the remoteness of the communities as barriers — it notes that no housing was available for a successful candidate in Watson Lake.

It also questioned how much consultation was used in establishing the hubs, and recommended services are continually modified based on feedback from users.

The audit also notes that traditional healing and cultural knowledge must be emphasized in order to deliver care in rural Yukon. While the audit acknowledges efforts by the government to promote this, it also noted that only 60 per cent of service providers had taken a required course on Yukon First Nations history.


The report includes recommendations for the Health and Social Services department.

Firstly, the government needs to improve staff retention. It also needs to be a better job of working with First Nations to implement cultural safety. The audit also found the government needed to do a better job of measuring and reporting on the effectiveness of the hubs.

“We acknowledge more work is needed to improve mental health services throughout the Yukon. The recommendations from the OAG will help us achieve our goal to improve mental health and substance use services in all Yukon communities,” said Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee in a statement.

The audit covered the period from May 5, 2016 to September 1, 2020.

Contact Haley Ritchie at