The Yukon government’s department of Health and Social Services notified residents living in the communities of Mayo, Pelly Crossing and Destruction Bay earlier this week that services at their local health centers would be temporarily reduced.
A shortage in staff is said to be the reason.
Health centers in rural communities are a lifeline for those in medical distress. Whether community members use them to treat a minor cut, or require an emergency medivac, the services provided at these can mean the difference between life and death.
The recent service reductions are concerning for 85-year-old Destruction Bay resident Charles Eikland Sr.
Eikland Sr. said he found out his local health center is closed until July 24th only after going there and seeing a notice on the door.
He told CBC News that he had a close call last year. He said the thing that saved him was the nurse on duty at the health centre.
“I had a heart attack here,” he said. “It’s a lucky thing the nurse was here to get me on the plane, otherwise I’d be dead.”
Eikland Sr. fears that if something were to happen to him before the center opens again, he’ll have to drive an hour to Haines Junction for treatment.
Eikland said the Yukon Government needs to figure out a way to keep health centers open if it’s going to keep promoting how great the territory is.
“They keep hollering, ‘bring in some more tourists,” he said. “Bring in more mining. Bring in more and more, but yet they don’t think about ‘well, we need someone to look after them if people get hurt.”
The health center in Mayo is closed until next Tuesday. On Wednesday and Thursday, a nurse will be available during the health center’s daytime clinic hours for emergencies only.
Full services will resume on July 20th.
Susan Stewart lives about a half an hour away from Mayo.
As a former employee of the Mayo health center, she blames the Yukon government for the staff shortages not just in Mayo, but in every community.
“They get no support,” she told CBC News. “Our nurses are overworked.”
Stewart said that people living in Mayo’s surrounding communities also use its health centre. She said that during the summer months, tourists and miners frequent the center.
The steward said that with the high demand for services, and with a shortage of staff, burnout happens way too often.
“There’s a health care professional crisis all throughout North America,” she said. “The community health care crisis in the Yukon is worsening because of that. But it worsened before the shortage even happened because community nursing, the department is not willing to work with our nurses.”
Now that the center is closed, Stewart said people who need medical attention will have to travel three hours to Dawson City, or two hours to Pelly Crossing.
“Most of us aren’t going to have life-threatening problems,” she said. “But there are some who will. Or it’s going to turn life-threatening because they’re trying to get to somewhere with healthcare.”
‘Recruiting efforts continue’
Cathy Stannard is the director of Community Nursing with the Yukon government. In a written statement to CBC News, she said the government acknowledged the challenges presented by reduced services.
She also wrote that the health and wellbeing of healthcare professionals is a priority, and that reducing services during staff shortages is one way to prevent burnout among nurses in communities.
The statement said that EMS is expanding operations to mitigate the impacts of closures. This includes placing paramedics, when possible, in strategic locations. It said EMS has additional supports in Mayo, Teslin and Destruction Bay and will work with all clients to ensure they have access to emergency services.
Meanwhile, Stannard wrote, recruiting efforts continue and the department’s goal is to have full services return to the impacted communities at the dates shared with the public.
She still recommends that people who need emergency assistance call 911.