The Yukon legislature unanimously supported a Yukon NDP motion — which mirrors a Yukon Liberal Party promise — to create a health lodge in Whitehorse for rural residents who are attending medical appointments.
MLAs from all parties voted in favour of the motion following debate in the Yukon Legislative Assembly on March 29.
The Yukon Liberal Party made the pledge in its 2021 territorial elections campaign platform. The motion is also in line with a recommendation in Putting People First, the Yukon government’s roadmap on health.
“We have accepted the recommendations in Putting People First and are exploring the options related to medical travel residences, including potentially securing hotel rooms in the interim. I think a residence is a smart idea,” Health and Social Services Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee told the House.
“I will have several comments with respect to some of the ones that currently exist and the concept of free accommodation at such a residence, but that’s all to be worked out in the future.”
This fiscal year, as of Feb. 21, insured health medical travel has dealt with 3,613 in-territory medical travel cases, 2,940 out-of-territory medical travel cases, 351 in-territory medevac cases and 307 out-of-territory medevac cases, McPhee said.
In 2019-20, an estimated 5,259 overnight stays for medical travel took place in Vancouver and 1,769 in Whitehorse, with the majority of these trips lasting one or two nights, according to McPhee. McPhee said an average of 19 people were on medical travel requiring an overnight stay in Vancouver per day and five people per day required an overnight stay in Whitehorse during that same period.
Premier Ranj Pillai said 17 months of consultation went into this decision.
Now it is up to the Liberal government to make this lodge a reality, the Yukon NDP said in a release.
According to the NDP, every year, thousands of Yukoners travel from their home communities to access health-care services that only Whitehorse offers, such as birthing, medical specialists, procedures and doctor appointments.
“The subsidy for medical travel doesn’t come close to covering the full cost of accommodation and transportation. We have heard from people who had to pay hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars out of pockets to access healthcare,” Yukon NDP Leader Kate White said in the release.
“Some Yukoners told us that they’ve had to delay medical appointments or procedures because they simply couldn’t afford a hotel stay in Whitehorse.”
The Liberal government first doubled the medical travel subsidy and then recently bumped it up from $155 to $166 per day.
“That’s hardly enough to cover a hotel room,” White told her colleagues during debate in the legislature.
“For a lot of people, this money is all they have to afford accommodations, food and transportation.”
Yukon Party Leader Currie Dixon noted his party’s critiques and comments for the public record. While all three parties agreed on the overall motion, he suggested all three parties have divergent ideas.
“What was described by the leader of the third party and the minister of Health and Social Services seemed to be quite different, so it’s clear that there are different visions about what this lodge may end up looking like,” he said.
“I do think, though, that we all agree that there should be a lodge of some kind here in Whitehorse to provide the services that have been articulated by our colleagues, but I do have some concerns and reservations about the outright dismissal of the idea that there is any role here at all for the private sector, for [non-government organizations] or for any other type of alternative models of running this lodge, other than simply having the government run the lodge, staff the lodge and operate the lodge.”
On March 30, White moved a motion calling on the Yukon government to provide a timeline, including the opening date for a health lodge in Whitehorse.
Contact Dana Hatherly at firstname.lastname@example.org