Yukoners will lose Alberta psychiatric care facility

Yukoners will lose important addiction services if Alberta follows through with plans to close more than half of Edmonton hospital's psychiatric beds, say psychiatrists stationed at the hospital.

Yukoners will lose important addiction services if Alberta follows through with plans to close more than half of Edmonton hospital’s psychiatric beds, say psychiatrists stationed at the hospital.

In a letter to federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq, a group of 19 psychiatrists voice “grave concerns” about Premier Ed Stelmach’s decision to close 246 of 400 beds at the Alberta Hospital Edmonton.

The closures will seriously diminish services to the three northern territories, because many northerners with mental illness use the facilities, say the psychiatrists in the January 6 letter.

“We feel the bed closures at Alberta Hospital Edmonton will have an impact on delivery of psychiatric care to Canadians outside our province,” says the letter.

The hospital receives patients from the Northwest Territories, Yukon and Nunavut, it says.

Health care is a provincial jurisdiction, but Ottawa has an obligation to ensure adequate services to Canada’s aboriginals, continues the letter.

The facility’s strengths are addiction treatment programs and services tailored to aboriginals.

“Our setting on the outskirts of Edmonton allows us to offer culturally sensitive holistic treatment, such as sweat lodge and smudging, for native individuals,” says the letter.

“However, the services are in the process of being eliminated.”

Yukon Health spokesperson Pat Living did not know about the situation and could not provide a government response by press time.

A spokesperson for Whitehorse General Hospital, Karen-Dawn Braden, was still researching the issue by press time.

A spokesperson with the federal Health Department was not available either.

The bed closures had ignited a political firestorm in Alberta, where the government is cutting health services to deal with a $1.2-billion deficit.

Originally announced last August, Stelmach reacted to the backlash by setting up a committee to look at the proposed cuts.

Edmonton-Rutherford MLA Fred Horne has been Stelmach’s point man on the issue.

A request for an interview was not returned by Horne’s legislative office.

In their letter, the psychiatrists compare the bed cuts to Australia’s poor record at providing mental health services for its aboriginal population.

Last month, a United Nations official completed an investigation on Australia’s mental health facilities after receiving complaints.

The UN found Australia had violated human rights “concerning the delivery of adequate health care to aboriginal peoples,” says the letter.

“We were alarmed by this finding because the Alberta government is using the Australian Health Care delivery system as a model for Alberta health care reform,” it says.

“We hope that this country will never be in the embarrassing, nay, disgraceful position of having a world body compelled to investigate the provision of appropriate health care to its citizens.”

Contact James Munson at

jamesm@yukon-news.com

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