Watson Lake dentist gets no Outside perks

The Department of Health didn't mean to pull Watson Lake's dental funding. "It was just a poorly worded letter," said Health spokesperson Patricia Living. The letter she's referring to was sent to Dr. Pearson.

The Department of Health didn’t mean to pull Watson Lake’s dental funding.

“It was just a poorly worded letter,” said Health spokesperson Patricia Living.

The letter she’s referring to was sent to Dr. Pearson – a Whitehorse dentist who has been caring for Watson Lake’s pearly whites for more than 30 years.

Written by community health programs director Cathy Stannard and dated March 7, it stated:

“In the past, the department (of Health) … helped offset the cost of travel to rural communities for the provision of adult care when no resident dentist was present.

“The funding for this service will be coming to an end March 31, 2011.”

Pearson is the only local dentist in the territory still travelling to a community to fill cavities.

The Yukon’s other communities are serviced by four Outside dentists – three from Quebec and one from the US.

It costs the territory $80,000 a year to fly the dentists and their assistants north.

Each dentist team visits their respective community twice a year, for 10 days each time.

It costs the territory about $1,000 a day, per dentist.

And the dentists are only seeing an average of three to six patients daily.

Pearson sees up to 16 patients a day at a quarter the cost, he said.

And he could have seen a lot more.

But the Yukon government only pays for two Watson Lake visits a year – only one of them with his hygienist.

“I was advocating for four visits a year,” said Pearson, who is swamped every time he arrives in the community.

It’s “MASH dentistry,” he said in a past interview with the News.

Losing money on these visits, with unpaid driving days for himself and his assistant, Pearson asked the government to cover his Watson Lake clinic costs, including heat, phone and power.

That’s when he got the letter.

Not only was the government not going to cover the clinic costs, it was also going to stop paying his travel expenses.

“They pulled the plug,” he said.

Living insists that wasn’t the letter’s intent – even though it states “all funding will be coming to an end March 31.”

It wasn’t a mistake, said Pearson, who started making plans to close his Watson Lake clinic after getting the letter.

“They are trying to save money so they go and make cuts,” he said.

“And they are cutting services to the public instead of somewhere else.”

If he had concerns about the letter, Pearson could have called us, said Living.

But Stannard’s letter was clear, ending with: “I will be away from my office from March 7 through 22 inclusive. I would be happy to discuss this matter with you upon my return.”

It was “unfortunate” that Stannard was away, added Living.

About a week after the letter arrived, Pearson’s phone rang.

It was Premier Dennis Fentie’s chief of staff Dale Drown.

Pearson services individuals in the premier’s constituency, said Drown.

“So it came to our attention.

“The funding will carry on,” said Drown, on Thursday.

But when Pearson called Drown back, to give a list of his costs, he was directed to Health.

“I have to defer to the (Health) department,” said Drown.

“They have to work it out.”

Under Pearson’s “present contract, he receives mileage, accommodation, per diems (includes meals and incidentals); travel time and set-up time, plus a monthly rental amount for his office,” wrote Living in an email.

But that’s not enough, said Pearson.

He would like to visit Watson Lake four times a year with a hygienist.

Right now, a hygienist is only covered once a year.

“Prevention is a key component of dental care,” said Pearson.

“And the focus should be on prevention,” he said.

“But it doesn’t seem to be.”

Pearson would also like his clinic’s monthly expenses, which come to just over $1,200, covered.

The four Outside dentists don’t pay for their offices in the Yukon communities.

“The itinerant dentists work out of facilities that Health and Social Services own and use for the Yukon Children’s Dental program,” said Living.

But Health doesn’t pay for Pearson’s clinic.

“Dr. Pearson is not working in a YG facility,” said Living.

Health could not commit to paying his clinic costs.

“I can’t speak to that,” said Living.

“All I’m asking is for the same benefits the Outside dentists are getting,” said Pearson.

“I want to keep servicing Watson Lake.”

Contact Genesee Keevil at

gkeevil@yukon-news.com