Nunavik health officials to consult region before revising escort policy
“We’re going to be stricter about it”
Health officials in Nunavik say they’ll need another two months to consult residents before they can revise their controversial medical escort policy.
The Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services has been working on a new approach to its medical travel program, which it says costs about $20 million a year in airfares alone.
Under Nunavik’s health care system last year, more than 5,000 patients and their roughly 2,500 escorts travelled south to Montreal for specialized health care services.
But statistics the health board gathered on medical travel show an alarming number of incidents, including intoxication and drug possession, violence, missed departures and even deaths reported among patients and escorts staying at Ullivik, the health board’s patient residence centre in Montreal, which just opened its doors in December 2016.
Since then, the health board has tracked 656 incidents of intoxication among escorts and 744 incidents among patients.
In a report presented to Kativik Regional Government councillors last month, health officials said they are also dealing with incidents of sexual aggression, missed appointments and negligence, which includes parents leaving children at the centre while they go out.
The health board’s executive director, Minnie Grey, said the organization has gained wide support from regional leaders on its plans to adopt a new escort policy to cut back on these incidents and the related costs.
“Many people understand where we’re coming from and our efforts to find solutions to this escort situation,” she said. “It’s not just escorts—it’s patients too.”
The board of directors met last week to discuss the issue and hear Grey’s proposal to eliminate the need for many patient escorts by hiring Montreal-based “patient navigators” who would help accompany patients to appointments and translate for unilingual Inuktitut speakers.
Board members have seen the statistics and heard from the health system, but now they want to consult Nunavimmiut before they approve a change in policy.
The health board has now postponed its decision until its next meeting, set for Feb. 20.
In the meantime, the health board will work with Taqramiut Nipingnat Inc. to host a regional radio call-in program in the new year, to gather public input.
Grey said the end result will likely be a more rigorous screening process at home in Nunavik, combined with more Montreal-based patient navigators hired by the health board.
“If you’re 20 years old, you can speak English, but maybe you’re not comfortable in the city,” she said. “So then you’re assigned a patient navigator.”
The health board does not intend to shut down the escort program, Grey added.
“But we’re going to be stricter about it,” she said, noting that, this year alone, 382 Nunavik escorts have been blocked from ever escorting a medical patient again.
“We want to work more closely with community wellness committees to come up with a list of reliable and qualified escorts,” she said.
The health board is still working towards the creation of a regional hospital in Nunavik that could host many of the specialized services that patients currently have to travel south to receive.
The health board is drafting an inventory of all the services the region already hosts in its two regional health centres, plus a wish-list of which services the region would like to see offered in a Nunavik hospital, to present to the Quebec government in 2018.
“There are certain specialties that could easily be repatriated to the region,” she said. “It’s for the benefit of our users so they have services in the proximity of where they live.”