Emergency dental services are no longer available in Dawson City. Getting clear answers about why is like pulling teeth.
Dr. Helmut Schoener, Dawson’s former resident dentist who worked in the community for more than 30 years before he retired, says he’s “puzzled” by why the government of Yukon has suddenly decided he is not allowed to provide emergency services to Dawsonites who ask for his help.
Schoener retired in 2009 but still lives in Dawson. For about six years after Schoener retired, a visiting dentist would come to the community to treat Dawsonites twice a year. Between visits, Schoener would use the government facility to offer basic emergency help such as fillings.
“I felt a moral obligation because it’s a 1,000-kilometre round trip to Dawson for some little stuff that I could have helped people (with),” he said.
The Yukon government never paid him but allowed him to use the space. He would be paid by his patients, he said.
In late 2015 a private dentist moved to Dawson, set up shop and the government dental space was shut down. When that dentist died not long after arriving, Dawson was left without a dental clinic.
Schoener has been lobbying ever since for the government to open a new location.
That location recently opened in the Dawson City Hospital but Schoener is being told he can’t use it.
“There are no plans to support the delivery of emergency dental services within Dawson City, this is consistent with itinerant service delivery to other Yukon communities,” director of community health programs Cathy Stannard wrote in an email to Schoener May 1.
The dentist, who said he still has a valid licence, doesn’t understand why he is being prevented from doing something he was allowed to do for years.
“My argument was, well, shut the swimming pool down. We have an indoor swimming pool, there’s none in Pelly Crossing.”
He said he’s not asking for government money, he’s simply asking to use the new government space the same way he used the old one.
Following requests from the News, both Health and Social Services spokesperson Pat Living and a statement from Premier and Klondike MLA Sandy Silver claimed the contract with the current itinerant dentist, Dr. Chris Wisnieski, prevents other dentists from using the space.
The contract is for three years and is set to go back out to tender in January.
“This is the same throughout the territory and is not specific to Dawson City,” Silver’s statement said.
The News asked repeatedly to see the contract. Cabinet officials also put in requests. It was released by the department the evening of July 12.
Nothing in the contract explicitly forbids someone else from offering emergency services in the clinic.
In an email, Living said the government issued the contract “with the understanding” that “that individual is the sole service provider under the terms of the contract.”
In the same statement she said “this is an itinerant service and not an emergency service.”
Schoener said that explanation also doesn’t make sense.
He’s not competing with the itinerant dentist, he said.
“I made it quite clear that I don’t want to go into regular practice, I just want to provide the town with (help in) emergencies.”
Living’s email provides other reasons for not allowing Schoener to work at the hospital, including that it “could create uncertain liability on government as there is little recourse to oversee such a party.”
She did not explain why this was not considered a problem when Schoener used the old facility for years.
She said the hospital needs to know set times when the itinerant dentist will be using the space.
Living said itinerant dental services were previously provided by three separate dentists who each had a contract with government. In those cases there was “knowledge that others will also be providing service.”
In an earlier interview, when asked whether the department was happy with the services Schoener was providing or the way he was using the space, Living said there were “concerns expressed.”
She refused to provide any details and couldn’t say whether any of those concerns were shared with the dentist. She said it was “not an issue that would require informing the community.”
Schoener said no one raised concerns with him about his work. He suggests this is revenge by the department after he expressed concerns years ago about the decline of the dental therapist program.
“The bottom line would be because of a personal vendetta, the community is disadvantaged.”
Contact Ashley Joannou at firstname.lastname@example.org