The Whitehorse General Hospital is seen on Feb. 14, 2019. The Yukon Party and the Yukon Employees’ Union are decrying prolonged payment delays for doctors and nurses working in the territory. (Yukon News file)

The Whitehorse General Hospital is seen on Feb. 14, 2019. The Yukon Party and the Yukon Employees’ Union are decrying prolonged payment delays for doctors and nurses working in the territory. (Yukon News file)

Yukon Party, nurses’ union decry delayed payment for Yukon healthcare professionals

Official Opposition and the Yukon Employees’ Union are calling for more timely payments

The Yukon Party Official Opposition and the Yukon Employees’ Union (YEU) have decried prolonged payment delays for doctors and nurses working in the territory.

The Yukon Party said in a statement long delays in compensating doctors are negatively impacting recruitment and retention efforts.

According to Yukon physicians, the government is not living up to its commitment to process physician billings in 30 days with many claims remaining unpaid for 90 days or longer, the Yukon Party said.

“It is an increasingly competitive labour market for health care professionals, and the territorial Liberal government needs to recognize that no one wants to wait months to be paid,” said Health and Social Services critic Brad Cathers.

“The government needs to update its doctor payment system to reflect best practices in other jurisdictions and ensure billings for insured health services are processed and paid promptly. The Yukon’s health system is again being put at risk by the minister of Health and Social Services’ lack of action.”

The party said paying doctors for health care services promptly is “an important part of retention and attracting new doctors to the Yukon, especially in such a competitive profession.”

Cathers said the NDP and Liberals have failed to replicate the Yukon Party’s success in health programs, which included initiatives aimed at supporting medical students.

“When the Yukon Party was in government, we implemented bursary programs for doctors, nurses and other health professionals,” he said.

“We also launched a financial incentive program to attract doctors who had recently graduated from a Canadian university, which provides doctors money in exchange for at least five years of service in the Yukon.”

Cathers said those programs started in 2006 when he was the minister of Health and Social Services, and funding for the health bursaries and incentive for family doctors were increased under the Yukon Party.

“Under the Liberal government, funding for the Medical Education Bursary and the bursaries for nurses and other health professionals has been reduced dramatically,” he noted.

“In 2006, the Medical Education Bursary would provide $10,000 per year to a Yukoner being educated as a doctor. About 10 years ago, the Yukon Party government increased that to $15,000 per year. Now under the Liberals, it has been reduced to less than it was 16 years ago.”

Those programs started in 2006, when I was the minister of Health and Social Services. During our last term, we increased funding for the health bursaries, and the incentive for family doctors. I think the last increases were in 2012.”

Health and Social Services spokesperson Claire Robson said ensuring physicians are paid within an appropriate time-frame is a priority.

“In early January, we were made aware of a backlog in payments and took immediate action to work to address outstanding claims,” she said.

Moving forward, Robson said the department is exploring opportunities to improve on the processes.

“We value our relationship with the Yukon Medical Association and are committed to continuing to work with them to address areas of concern,” she added.

Meanwhile, the Yukon Employees’s Union said the continued delay of promised bonuses for nurses is a violation of workers’ rights.

YEU president Steve Geick said 12 of the affected nurses are on maternity leave and were told they would not receive their bonuses because they were not actively working.

Geick said family status is a protective grounds under the Yukon Human Rights Act and denying the nurses their bonuses is an infringement of their rights.

The union said the promised bonuses for nurses were intended to retain existing staff and encourage new recruitment efforts, but the delay has left many nurses feeling frustrated and undervalued.

“The recent delay in the disbursement of the bonus payments raises serious concerns about the potential violation of human rights for the nurses in the Yukon,” Geick said.

“The lack of timely compensation is having a negative impact on the nurses and the healthcare system in the territory.”

Geick said nurses with the union were confirmed to receive their payments in batches. The first disbursement was made last week, following a promise by the Yukon government which, the union said, should have been implemented since Dec. 1, 2022.

He called on the Yukon government to “provide clear information on the delayed bonus payments and to take action to uphold workers’ rights and employment standards, including human rights.”

Cabinet spokesperson Renée Francoeur said the new $6-million dollar bonus package for Yukon government nurses that was agreed to in December 2022 is to recognize the vital work nurses do and to help address turnover and high vacancy rates in community nursing.

“Following the agreement, the majority of the bonuses were paid on Feb. 8, 2023, and a further payout is scheduled for the next pay period. Any outliers will be handled on a case-by-case basis,” she said.

Francoeur added that signing bonuses will continue to be “processed as quickly as possible.”

“Yukon government nurses who have questions about the bonus can reach out to their supervisor or human resources at the department of Health and Social Services,” she said.

“Our government remains committed to supporting all health-care workers in the territory, including nurses. Nurses play a critical role in the territory’s health care system and we are grateful for their expertise, dedication and care.”

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