Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, medical travel: where do I begin? I spoke yesterday about the medical travel co-payment threshold that desperately needs updating. Today I want to talk about the level of service that residents in Hay River receive with regard to medical travel. There are around 1,300 medical travel round trips between Hay River and Yellowknife each year, and about 600 to Edmonton. Maybe it is because of the sheer volume of these trips, but without a doubt my office receives more complaints about medical travel than anything else. The frequency of complaints has reached a point where the GNWT can no longer ignore the problem. Mr. Speaker, things need to change.
As I was preparing my statement, I really did not know where to begin. I typed “medical travel” into my e-mail inbox to look over some of the issues I’ve received in the past and I was overwhelmed. I will provide a couple of examples, but just know that these are not isolated cases. For everything I say, I have had multiple constituents tell me the same thing.
I will begin with the difficulty in scheduling travel. A constituent contacted the Hay River medical travel office to make travel arrangements two weeks before his appointment in Edmonton. It’s a recurring monthly appointment that he’s been attending for some time now. Being diligent, he called back a week later, on Wednesday, to ensure arrangements had been made. They had not, but he was reassured that they would be. He called on Friday – no arrangements had been made. He called on Monday, three days before his appointment – no arrangements had been finalized. His next contact with medical travel was the following day, when he received a call from the office asking him why he missed his flight. He was never informed that the flight was booked, let alone booked a day early. A new flight was booked, and he arrived in Edmonton the next day; well, technically, two days later because it was 3:00 a.m. by the time he got to Larga House. Luckily, his appointment was at 3:00 pm that day so he had a little time to recover, but he was on the plane with another patient who had cancer and whose appointment was at 7:00 am.
I have many constituents that frequently deal with specialists in the south, and they tell me that their specialists can’t understand why it is so difficult to book their appointments. My constituents often spend hours just trying to book a single trip.
I had notes about the complete lack of communication and information-sharing with patients about escorts, about not being aware that they can stay at Able House here in Yellowknife, and more, but I’ve run out of time so, Mr. Speaker, I will have some follow-up questions for the Minister of Health at the appropriate time.
MR. SIMPSON: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, I’ll be asking questions of the Minister of Health and Social Services regarding the level of medical travel services received in Hay River. As I stated, my office receives more complaints about medical travel than anything else. I was only able to touch on a few areas of concern during my statement. As I mentioned, I understand that when patients are sent to Edmonton they must take what flights are available, but when bookings are constantly being made at the last minute there are just no decent flights left.
I want to ask the Minister: how does the department justify sending sick people and elders on flights that arrive in Edmonton late at night or in the wee hours of the morning, especially when those patients have early-morning appointments? Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
MR. SPEAKER: Masi. Minister of Health and Social Services.
HON. GLEN ABERNETHY: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, I hear the Member’s concerns, and I’ve heard the concerns from residents as well. Usually, the medical travel officers throughout the Territories work with patients to develop a medical travel solution that meets the patient’s needs.
I understand that there have been some challenges in the Hay River area, and we have worked together to address some of those, and I do apologize for those frustrations. For the most part, we work to actually accommodate individuals’ needs throughout the Northwest Territories. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
MR. SIMPSON: That sort of leads into my second question. There appears to be a significant lack of information-sharing and communication on the part of the medical travel office, where it doesn’t seem that they’re working with patients. For example, patients are often unaware that they can rest at Able House when they travel to Yellowknife for the day for an appointment, and constituents often spend the day waiting at the airport or Tim Horton’s when they could be resting in a bed, which they might need. I had a constituent in his eighties who didn’t realize he could get a wheelchair at the airport in Edmonton and skip the 45-minute security line the day after his heart surgery. This would all be good information to have, so I want to ask: is there something like a checklist that the medical travel officer is supposed to go through so that patients are aware of all this type of information?
HON. GLEN ABERNETHY: We recently released a handbook that actually has a significant amount of information available to residents who travel on medical travel, and our medical travel officers throughout the Northwest Territories for the most part actually provide the information that is necessary so that the patients know what is available to them. Whether or not, for instance, they could stay at one of the boarding homes; whether they’re eligible to stay at one of the boarding homes on a daytime basis.
It doesn’t appear to always happen in Hay River. I’m aware of the challenges that the Member from Hay River has raised. I’ve made a commitment to the Member that we will certainly look at how the services are being provided in Hay River. It’s a bit of an anomaly. Normally these services are provided historically through Stanton, now the Territorial Authority. In Hay River there’s a bit of a unique situation that we’re exploring to see how we can actually bring those services in to be more consistent with the policies of medical travel as it’s intended.
MR. SIMPSON: I’ve informed the Minister’s office that the handbook doesn’t contain the information that I mentioned. It is not very detail-oriented and it’s good to know that officers are supposed to provide this information, but, like I said, we’re not doing that, and so it sounds that just like the Hay River Authority is outside the Territorial Authority and we receive those services in a unique way, it sounds like the same thing has happened with medical travel. The Minister says he’s going to work to fix these, but it’s time to change it. What is the Minister going to do to fix medical travel in Hay River?
HON. GLEN ABERNETHY: I know we have challenges with the Hay River Health and Social Services Authority, but medical travel is not one of them. Hay River is not responsible for medical travel; it’s the Territorial Health Authority. They currently have a contract for the provision of medical travel services with a separate organization in Hay River. It’s the only place in the Territories where medical travel is delivered by non-GNWT or territorial staff.
I’ve made a commitment to the Member that we’re certainly going to look at that. We need to make sure that we have a consistent application of medical travel for all residents of the Northwest Territories, including Hay River, and I will continue to make that a priority and we will find some solutions that work for Hay River to ensure that they have consistent application to medical travel with all residents of the Northwest Territories.
MR. SIMPSON: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. It’s my understanding that medical travel in Hay River is unique in the territory because it’s provided by a third party. How long is this arrangement scheduled to last for? Thank you
HON. GLEN ABERNETHY: I think it was a contract that was let in the previous government prior to my time. I think we’re on a year-to-year-basis contract. I think we’re going to be coming to an end of that contract at some point, at which point we will be exploring options to provide medical travel in a consistent manner with different regions of the Northwest Territories, which would mean the NWT Health and Social Services Authority would be responsible for medical travel like everywhere else. Thank you.