Nunatsiaq News
NEWS: -none- September 26, 1997 - 9:36 am

Nunavik health board signs deal with McGill

JANE GEORGE

KUUJJUAQ - Nunavik may pick up many medical specialists who used to work in the Baffin region thanks to a three-year deal between the regional health board and McGill University.

The Baffin Regional Board of Health and Social Services recently decided not to renew its own contract with the McGill doctors.

The Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services is trying a new arrangement involving a region-to-region exchange of resources that could mean cheaper and better services for Nunavik.

The health board’s $35-million annual budget includes money to hire five specialists a year, based on Quebec’s system of allotting specialists to each region. But it has always been difficult to attract specialists to work and live in the North.

The deal has been in effect since April 1, 1997.

So the Nunavik health board has decided instead to trade its quota in exchange for 600 days of service a year from specialists affiliated with the McGill School of Medicine.

The contract won’t cost Nunavik any more money. And because Nunavik is part of Quebec, the health board won’t get slapped with the 18 per cent surcharge that the Baffin regional health board has had to pay in the past.

There still are a few glitches in the new deal to work out.

Last year Nunavik received only 300 specialist days, largely because of a lack of certain specialists in the South.

“Nunavik is hostage to shortages in the South,” Dr. Normand Tremblay, an employee of the Nunavik regional health board said. For this reason, no psychiatrist, for instance, will be able to regularly visit Nunavik until 1998.

Many specialists aren’t eager to travel to Nunavik, either, because they’re not paid any special premium for making the trip. And because they generally see fewer patients in Nunavik, they may actually earn less money in the North than if they were to stay home.

But the contract between the Nunavik regional health board and McGill is already starting to be felt at the two health centres in Nunavik, which have to organize client appointments for specialists.

The new arrangement could bring significant savings in patient travel, too.

Until recently, even minor surgery had to be performed in Montreal.

More than $100,000 has been spent outfitting Nunavik’s two health centres to give specialists the equipment they’ll need to perform their work in the region. Patient services are also being upgraded. Surgeons have since performed more than 100 minor operations at the Inuulitsivik Health Centre in Puvirnituq.

The number of costly transfers to Montreal hospitals is already down by 15 per cent from last year. “There’s an increase in expertise and at the same time we’re giving proper treatment to clients,” Harry Tulugak, Inuulitsivik’s interim director said. But the new plan also has its critics who wonder whether specialists, used to working in an urban setting, will look for reasons not to come to Nunavik. “Right now we have to treat them like spoiled babies,” said one health worker. Cut-backs in health services in the South, including many hospital closures, also means more specialists are going to be leaving Quebec. There may be even fewer specialists available in the future.

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