The Yukon’s first bilingual primary health centre of its kind could be opening in the next month, according to the territorial health minister.
On Oct. 11, Minister of Health and Social Services Tracy-Anne McPhee told reporters in the cabinet office that the Yukon government is looking at opening a publicly funded temporary bilingual clinic — Constellation Health Centre, or Centre de santé — in November, with the final location to come in spring 2023.
“We’re working dramatically to get that open because it will provide a certain level of care and certain quality of care in a bilingual situation, in French,” she said.
Without getting into the specifics, McPhee said doctors are lined up to work at the polyclinic, and some other staff have been hired.
“The Constellation clinic [has] been the victim, unfortunately, of supply chain issues, labour issues,” McPhee said.
“Some of the actual physical work is slowing it down.”
In an email statement, the department of Health and Social Services said the health centre in Whitehorse will not offer walk-ins for unregistered clients. Registered clients will be able to book an appointment in advance or access same-day appointments that will be set aside for urgent or emergency primary health care needs.
It will be the first clinic in the territory to provide services in both French and English.
The centre will accept 150 clients in its first three months.
Earlier, during question period, Annie Blake, MLA for Vuntut Gwitchin, enquired about the opening dates for a bilingual clinic as well as a separate new walk-in clinic.
Whitehorse’s only operating walk-in clinic stopped accepting new patients and walk-ins in summer 2021, leaving people without a walk-in clinic in the capital.
For patients without a family doctor who need to access immediate and ongoing care, their only remaining option is the emergency department at Whitehorse General Hospital.
The department of Health and Social Services previously told the News that the walk-in clinic will be where the River Valley Medical Clinic was located at 106 Lambert St. It will operate much like a traditional walk-in clinic — clients will not need an appointment to see a doctor — and doctors working at the clinic will be private contractors who are not contracted by the Yukon government.
A walk-in will open to the public depending on physician availability, the department said in June.
McPhee clarified Oct. 11 the “government supported” walk-in clinic will be privately run, although she does not know when the walk-in clinic will open.
“I hope it’s tomorrow, but the truth of the matter is that we’re working on many options,” she said.
“We’re talking to local medical practitioners and nurse practitioners to determine how that might fit into their business plan, and how we can support that.”
Following question period, Blake told reporters that she sees an opportunity for the territorial government to look at plans for the long run.
“I feel like we’re operating in crisis mode,” she said.
“When you focus on long-term planning, then you’re able to address a lot of the gaps that we deal with.”
Establishing a new bilingual health centre is a recommendation of the Putting People First health report and was a Yukon Liberal Party promise during the 2021 provincial election campaign.
The report lays out a major overhaul of the territory’s health system and is regularly cited by McPhee. It states that setting up a bilingual primary health-care team in a Whitehorse polyclinic is a recommended step to carrying out the overhaul of the health system that the report calls for.
In the report, a polyclinic is defined as a clinic that offers many different medical services for a wide variety of diseases and injuries. It serves people who are not admitted to hospital and is managed separately from a hospital.
The report indicates the idea is five polyclinics, each covering up to 8,400 Yukoners, located in Whitehorse, plus a sixth could be added in the future as the population grows. Each polyclinic would be fitted with six primary health-care teams consisting of a doctor or nurse practitioner and support staff such as a nurse case manager, a medical assistant and administrative positions.
In the report, the broader goal is to create integrated polyclinics and a community health-care network to provide extended primary health-care services and link “client-owners” (also known as Yukoners) with additional services as required.
The bilingual clinic is a “step towards” implementing polyclinics, the department said.
In a scrum, Brad Cathers, health critic for the Yukon Party, criticized the government for being slow to act on its own commitments.
“We continue to see this government fumbling on health care, which is vitally important to the wellbeing and the health of Yukoners.”
His party has been calling on the government to take action to recruit physicians by reinstating a physician recruitment position within the Yukon government.
Contact Dana Hatherly at email@example.com