Yukon’s health minister Pauline Frost talks to media after question period in the legislative assembly on March 28. Frost said on April 3 there may be a need for more detox beds in the territory. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

Yukon health minister acknowledges potential need for more detox beds

‘We did not have a wait list,’ Frost says, which is technically true, because staff don’t keep one

Yukon’s health minister says there might be a need for more detox beds in the territory.

Minister Pauline Frost made the comments April 3 after question period in the legislative assembly.

The government was questioned by the opposition following news that the detox beds in the downtown Whitehorse Sarah Steele Alcohol and Drug Services Building were full for most of the month of March and people in need were being turned away.

“That’s sort of inconclusive because some days we see full (beds) and some days we see not full and I think we need to do the proper due diligence and look back in time and look at what we have,” Frost told reporters.

A request to cabinet officials for more information on how often detox beds are at capacity was not returned in time for today’s deadline.

The minister said she doesn’t want to see people turned away if there is a need.

“If there’s need for more support or more beds then certainly we would ensure that that happens.”

The Sarah Steele building offers both a 24-bed intensive residential drug and alcohol treatment program that can last for months as well as 14 short-term detox beds.

Last week health officials told the News that on more than 30 occasions in March they had to turn someone away from a detox bed, in most cases because the beds were full.

The opposition criticized Frost for telling the legislative assembly a few days earlier there was no waitlist for detox and that clients were “provided immediate support.”

“Can the minister clarify whether she was correct or whether the Yukon News was correct?” Yukon Party MLA Patti McLeod asked.

Frost told the legislative assembly that on any given day, the number of people in detox changes. “On the day in question, we did not have a wait list.”

Yukon’s detox facility never has a wait list because officials don’t maintain one.

Staff do not take down phone numbers of people looking for detox who are turned away. Beds are filled on a first-come-first-serve basis once they become available.

Frost told reporters maintaining a wait list “doesn’t make sense.”

Many people looking for detox do not have a phone or permanent residence, making it hard to get a hold of them, she said.

“We want to ensure that the limited beds that we do have, we don’t hold it up if someone is in immediate need,” she said.

“So that’s why I’m saying that if there’s more beds required then in time we will determine that.”

The department does maintain a wait list for the intensive residential programs that can last for months.

That waitlist for that program is 44 people long, the minister told the legislative assembly March 27. That means it takes about two months for someone to make it into the program, she said.

The current Sarah Steele building opened in 2016.

Contact Ashley Joannou at ashleyj@yukon-news.com

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