Survey this: How does Yukon’s health care rate?

Since the government loves questionnaires so much, how about one on health care?

The Yukon government loves its surveys. In the past few months, I’ve completed surveys about pot, the school calendar and Yukon’s financial priorities. Noticeably absent was a survey on what should be our top priority — keeping each other healthy.

Or maybe it’s coming in the mail. Either way, in the interest of being helpful, here are my survey answers about the state of our health care system.

Medical travel

Medical travel to Whitehorse, or hospitals in the south, leaves Yukoners with their own bills to pay since there is a significant gap between what is covered, and what it actually costs to travel to, say, Vancouver for treatment.

Stories abound of Yukoners who travelled for life-saving treatment, only to return home with hotel, meal and transportation bills they simply can’t afford. Others have decided to skip treatment altogether because the expense of travelling is too much.

Yukoners who skip medical treatment because they can’t afford the expense of travel will only end up costing our health care system more as their conditions worsen.

Medical travel isn’t a luxury — it’s for medically necessary treatment that isn’t available locally. Make no mistake, medical travel isn’t some side benefit to living in the North. Our government is obligated to provide this service to us. So why are we asking Yukoners to pay when, in the opinion of their doctor, they require medical treatment they can’t get at home?

The News has reported several cases of patients being overwhelmed by medical travel costs: One senior ended up at a hotel that cost him $300 per night. Another noted that when he worked for the territorial government, his per diem for work travel was $100 — more generous than what travelling patients get.

We should be covering the actual cost of medical travel, in and out of territory, rather than an arbitrary limit of $75 per day. Yukoners deserve to receive the quality healthcare they need — not what their pocketbook can afford.

More beds

We’re going to need more beds — way more beds. More hospital beds, more continuing care beds, more home care support. Either we lurch forward, stumbling from crisis to crisis, or we plan ahead. It makes financial sense, and good policy, to anticipate this need and start working on those beds now.

Case in point is the $1 million our government spent last year to quickly renovate the Thomson Centre to create more beds – money that could have gone to a more sustainable and permanent solution.

Our Whitehorse General Hospital can’t keep pace with the growing need, even with the recent expansion. We’ve heard stories of patients being moved to Watson Lake and Dawson simply because we don’t have room for them. What can be done now to support our hospital into the future?

More continuing care beds are certainly part of the solution. No doubt that beds at Whistle Bend will fill quickly when it opens next year. But looking ahead, long-term forecasts say we could do with twice the 150 beds this facility will provide. Let’s start planning for this now. There may be better ideas than adding another 150 beds to the Whistle Bend facility. The government should be open to alternatives.

Home care is a big piece of the puzzle in allowing Yukoners to age in their communities. Last week, our government pledged to provide more home care for rural seniors. This is a good start. Let’s talk more about how we can make this happen throughout the territory.

More beds come with a hefty price tag — but the cost will only go up if we procrastinate on dealing with this issue now. It’s a hard pill to swallow, but you know we will fare better in the long run.

Mental health

We need more mental health workers — enough so someone in crisis can get help within 24 hours.

Sadly, every story in the Yukon about mental health includes an extended wait time for support services. We’ve heard of Yukoners in crisis suffering through a lag time of six months, or longer, to see a psychiatrist. Even more troubling is the wait times for kids facing mental health crises.

Providing access to mental health services at the moment when the patient is open and receptive to receiving this care is critical. Earlier this year, Premier Sandy Silver set out in the budget funding for 11 new addiction and mental wellness workers for communities. This is moving in the right direction, but our need is greater and more urgent.

Survey says: it’s time

If there is one issue we can all rally around, no matter our political stripes, let’s make it fixing our health care. It sounds a little daunting at first, but there are creative solutions out there. And we have no shortage of passionate and committed health-care providers who have great ideas for how we can do better.

Shaunagh Stikeman is a lawyer, facilitator and community advocate who lives in Whitehorse.

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