MLAs fire barrage of complaints at Nunavut’s health minister

After-hours emergency calls go unanswered


Health Minister Pat Angnakak withstood a barrage of complaints about her department's shortcomings yesterday. (PHOTO BY STEVE DUCHARME)

Health Minister Pat Angnakak withstood a barrage of complaints about her department’s shortcomings yesterday. (PHOTO BY STEVE DUCHARME)

Nunavut Health Minister Pat Angnakak faced a heap of criticism in the legislature on Thursday over her department’s shortcomings, including reports of after-hours emergency calls to community health centres that go unanswered.

Arviat North-Whale Cove MLA John Main said during question period on March 8 that he received a letter from a constituent saying phone calls to their community’s after-hours nurse line were never responded to.

“Sometimes it might be an emergency situation, but the phone at the health centre is not being answered,” Main said.

“Its not a hypothetical question, it is a situation that has arisen multiple times.”

Angnakak replied, “that’s a situation that sometimes arises when somebody is not answering a phone that should be [answering].”

The minister suggested to Main that any incidents should be reported to the Health Department’s Office of Patient Relations, which is supposed to investigate those matters.

Earlier questions by Main on standards and protocol for after-hours medical workers in small communities also went unanswered by Angnakak, who added she was not personally aware of any complaints about after-hours medical service.

“Forgive me, I’m a new minister so I’m trying to learn the ropes as well,” Angnakak said on her third day of the current sitting of the legislature.

Angnakak was sworn in as health minister last November.

The tough questions over the health minister’s portfolio continued, when Pangnirtung MLA Margaret Nakasuk relayed security and cleanliness complaints from people who have stayed at Iqaluit’s Tammattaavik medical boarding home.

Nakasuk said elders visiting the boarding home have been harassed by intoxicated people, and she asked how many security staff are employed at the facility.

Angnakak replied that her department raised both security and cleanliness issues during a recent meeting with Tammattaavik’s staff, and are working with the facility on solutions.

One additional security guard will be hired to complement the single guard who is currently working at the boarding home, Angnakak said, and is expected to start next month.

“To be blunt, the conditions at the boarding home are not ideal and medical clients have noted that the rooms are not clean and there is dirt around,” Nakasuk said.

“I know this is an operations matter, but we have to be aware of the health of the people staying there.”

In a member’s statement, Gjoa Haven MLA Tony Akoak repeated calls for a mental health facility in his community, following over a year of violent incidents.

Akoak pressed Angnakak to commit to considering the establishment of a dedicated mental health facility in Nunavut.

“I guess I can’t commit to something as big as that, but I can commit to working with yourself and your community to find more ways that we can address some of the trauma that your community has experienced,” Angnakak said.

“It might not be in the form of an actual facility, that you are requesting,” Angnakak said.

She said psychiatric nurses are available in each Nunavut community, along with mental health facilities in Cambridge Bay and Iqaluit, and a mobile trauma unit that can be deployed throughout the territory.

“We’re always looking for ways we can provide more support for people,” she said, mentioning programs, grants and services available to communities through Nunavut’s Quality of Life Secretariat.

A 2017 audit of Nunavut’s Department of Health by the Auditor General of Canada reported that more than 500 positions, or 46.6 per cent of the department’s permanent workforce, were vacant as of Dec. 31, 2016.

Because of that, the Department of Health spent about $16.3 million on agency nurses—or nurses hired through a contractor—along with $15 million on casual employees, during the 2015-16 fiscal year, the auditor general reported.

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