Nunavut MLAs raise concerns about medical travel

In legislative assembly, members question health minister over medevac, availability of flights for doctor appointments

Aivilik MLA Solomon Malliki said he has heard concerns from people who have had to wait three to six days to be medevaced. He questioned Health Minister John Main Tuesday about medevac service in the legislative assembly. (Photo by Emma Tranter)

By Meral Jamal

Updated on Friday, March 3, 2023 at 1:45 p.m.

Three MLAs are raising concerns over medical-travel services in Nunavut.

In the legislative assembly this week, members Joseph Quqqiaq of Netsilik, Solomon Malliki of Aivilik, and Bobby Anavilok of Kugluktuk questioned Health Minister John Main about delays for Nunavummiut who need to be transported for medical care.

On Tuesday, Quqqiaq said he has heard Kugaaruk residents are facing medevac delays because there is only one airline that provides emergency service for the community.

“Having only one airline puts severe limitations on the level of emergency services that can be provided,” Quqqiaq said in his statement.

“An individual in a health crisis has to wait a very long time for the medevac plane to arrive and then transport them to the nearest treatment centre in Yellowknife or, occasionally, Edmonton.”

Quqqiaq raised the issue again during question period, asking Main why only one airline provides medevac services to his community.

“We have three separate contracts, one for each region of Nunavut, under the medevac service contract and Keewatin Air Ltd. is the contracted medevac service provider for the entire territory, meaning that they have the three separate contracts,” Main said in response.

He said the Department of Health works with the airline to ensure that if there is a surge in the needs of a community or region, aircrafts can be brought in “from other regions to meet the demand.”

“It’s very unpredictable in terms of how many medevacs for a given community or region, so it’s something we have to stay on top of and we do that by working diligently with the contractor,” Main said.

He said that in the past year, the number of Nunavummiut seeking medevac services has increased roughly 10 per cent.

“In 2022-23 we had 2,647 medevacs, which is very high,” Main said.

He added that “when you have a growing demand like that, it takes a lot of work to try to make sure that the contractors are able to meet the need.”

Main said the Health Department’s contract to offer medevac services in Kitikmeot communities includes a dedicated aircraft in Cambridge Bay, a dedicated aircraft in Yellowknife, and four other aircraft located in Iqaluit and Winnipeg that Keewatin Air can use if needed.

Malliki echoed Quqqiaq’s concern Tuesday, saying he has heard from people in Naujaat who say they have had to wait three to six days to be medevaced out of the community.

Malliki also questioned Main about the medevac contract, saying that sometimes medevac services have not been available in Naujaat because there were not enough nurses.

Main said the Health Department takes these concerns seriously and is working with contractors and Keewatin Air to figure out “how to deal with this challenge.”

Then on Wednesday, Anavilok expressed concern about the availability of flights for people who need to travel out of their communities for medical appointments.

Anavilok added that medical travel bookings are usually done last minute, and people often miss or have to reschedule their medical appointments because there are no plane seats available.

Main said his department is “aware of the problems that need to be resolved in this area,”

The Health Department is “doing a comprehensive review” of its medical travel policy, he added.

Correction: This article has been updated from an earlier version to attribute the comment about people making medical travel bookings at the last minute to MLA Bobby Anavilok instead of to Health Minister John Main.

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(22) Comments:

  1. Posted by when will it end on

    What is this minister and government trying to do? First take away the girls group home, take funding away from kids and now cant even get a medivac plane. What is next. It is getting worse by the day. NTI hurry up and get the self government going.

    • Posted by One of Life’s Realities on

      Not sure how you’d think that is any improvement. Look at our PJ. Talked a good game when he was with NTI, but he’s accomplished nothing serving us so far.

      He’s learned the hard way that it is easy to be in opposition, but difficult to govern.

  2. Posted by Qavvigarjuk on

    I agree Medical travel is a mess, often my plane tickets are booked a day before or same day before travel south which is crazy! Patients tell medical travel that we have medical appointments weeks before as we get notices directly in the mail from clinics and dr offices from the south, well ahead of time; often medical travel in Winnipeg are not even aware of these appointments and those appointments are not in the system. Luckily I read English. How about elders who dont? They fall through the cracks and are missing appointments?
    There needs to be a big overhaul of medical travel and you need to hire a lot more people to run things smoothly. You are very short staffed in that department. kivalliq airplane tickets should not be booked out of Iqaluit!

    • Posted by Try this? on

      Contract booking services out to a company in the South, if you want it done right. Or we can keep playing make believe, I guess…

  3. Posted by Taxpayer on

    In southern Canada it is common for rural people that are infirm or chronically ill to eventually move to the city in order to be closer to hospitals, often at the urging of family and friends.

    One medevac flight costs over $40,000 and sometimes way more than that. This is a bit more than what the government uses to keep a public housing unit going in a year.

    Most people that are medevaced out are chronically sick. This service is not being overused by a boom in accident victims.

    In the lower provinces, it is well understood that health care services are finite, and people enjoy far greater mobility. People therefore take upon themselves, even at a high emotional cost, to situate themselves better to receive care. Given the lack of personal equity up here, this is not much of an option for many.

    However, $40,000 re-profiled for just one medevac flight by GN would pay for a very nice apartment in Ottawa, Winnipeg or Edmonton for someone that needs to be closer to a hospital. This could take the pressure off the system, save money, and probably save lives. Who knows how many people in Nunavut, knowing it is unsafe for them to live in a remote community, would accept support to live somewhere safer?

    The way things are, if the focus remains on people having access to immediate life saving treatment no matter where they are, things will just get worse and worse. More planes, more patients, and more cost. And, just as importantly for people that want quality education for their kids, and to have proper municipal services, less funding for anything else.

  4. Posted by Medical Travel is Major Bucks on

    Could Minister Main elaborate on the cost of those 2,647 medevacs? Just the flights alone would probably be around $30 to $40 million. Then factor in the cost of Larga or other accommodations required, Larga costing what, $240 per night per person or something like that? Then there’s the cost of actually paying the province or territory providing the healthcare to Nunavummiut, that’s big. That’s all money being vacuumed out of the territory.

  5. Posted by the Fed handout on

    OK so likely a lot of the issues stem from lack of money and leadership. So to the funding, Nunavut has yet to sign off with the Feds on the new funding arrangements. I sincerely hope that this government has it together and will not only ask but demand that Nunavut receives funding that will make a real difference to residents so that medical outcomes and service in general can be delivered. Nunavut needs more of everything. Infrastructure/personnel/and real leadership. It is just so sad that communities are faced with no nurses and no doctors and limited diagnostic equipment. Where are the mid wives/ Why are not more local people being trained to work in the medical field. Again leadership and planning. Not the same old over and over again.

    • Posted by Rephrased That Question for You on

      The better question is, “Why aren’t local people seeking and completing the training?”

  6. Posted by Northern Inuit on

    Comment from other store but apt.

    What about the amount of unused tickets from Medical Travel People who fly to Yellowknife, Edmonton, Iqaluit, Winnipeg and Ottawa who do not show up but the Airlines will rebook them on the next flight? Are those tickets lost because the person does not show up and they have to pay for another ticket home or does the Airline rebook them with credit?

    seems so many flights up north they are paging people in the ATB yet some do not show up.

    • Posted by Additional on

      It is not only that but if unused tickets are reissued, there is still a cost to that. not only could there be a fee to make the changes but it takes time and cost for someone to get that info, provide it, deliver to the airlines and have that ticket reissued.
      Often it can cause a backlog too.
      There is the cost of the ticket but also the cost for these other reasons.

  7. Posted by 867 on

    Medical travel is the travel of choice for bootleggers

    • Posted by Northerner on

      I know of one person , who goes out of her way to escort people , so , she can do some shopping and bring back cases of booze.

  8. Posted by Traveler on

    The whole system, like food mail, needs to be research and reviewed. Many, many do not show up for flights because nothing is done except to extend their ‘holiday’. Don’t forget, not much can be done, desert them on the streets? It won’t happen!
    Many, many also go down and ask for their return ticket (after being cleared) but there are no tickets. This is more so during off hours.
    When was the last time the OSHNI services open for bids? They are not always doing their job but where is the accountability?
    We often see posts on facebook but the majority do not advise Patient Relations, MLAs, etc. so the seriousness of this problem is not fully know. It needs major change, perhaps to have the staff (OSNI at present but should change) working right at the LARGA and some of the staff stationed at each hospital.

    • Posted by John W Paul Murphy on

      What part of OHSNI is not doing their job or how are they not being responsible or are you just trying to find another five seconds of anonymous posting? Give us facts, not ill-informed opinions.

  9. Posted by Again on

    Another comprehensive review!

    How many times does the government have to go down the same path to realize its the wrong way.

    How many have to die before things improve?

  10. Posted by PEANUT Program’s & SERVICE’s on

    Nunavut lack’s Infrastucture FUND’s; prime example reflect on peanunts Budget Fund’s previously introduce in the Legislative Assembly stage by the finance minister.

    This is an on-going issue across the Territory with the GN. Same story after an another. This is not new! Learn to live with lack of services and programs delivered across the territory. This is very biased budget FUND’s given as just a handout to delivery funds that is NOT feasible!

  11. Posted by mik on

    lmao once again it comes down to government being stupid with money.

    what is the annual cost medical travel? , what should be done is an major upgrade to QGH! and make it as modern as an ottawa hospital . its ridiculous how much money over time is spent , but cant just cry once and save mkoney in long run.

    its like how the city wont pave all roads, it rather spend millions in fuel and wages to keep grading .

    Nunavut doesnt have to be this way.

    • Posted by John W Paul Murphy on

      Spoken like someone from Iqaluit and screw the rest of Nunavut. QGH is not the only medical facility in Nunavut.

  12. Posted by Inuk on

    They need pilots, nurses, doctors shortages. Inuit take control of your territory.

    • Posted by John W Paul Murphy on

      How many Inuit are in the Legislative Assembly? You already have control of it. You elected them. YOU are to blame, if they aren’t living up to your expectations,

  13. Posted by Kitikmeot on

    On February 26,2023 my eight years old boy had stomach problem we waited 36 hours before medvac came in to our Community with other sick people from the Community. The nurse told us aircraft at 8am than 3pm the last one at 9pm and told us one aircraft for the whole kitikmeot region my boy kept saying so slow plane the aircraft finely came in at 9pm then they refuel in Cambridge bay we need better service for medical its our life . We need better service for medivac service.

  14. Posted by 180 on

    I have some questions – 2,647 medevacs

    Was there really a need for 2647? Could maybe 1000 of these have been treated in the community? How many of these 2,647 medevacs were “escorts” just going out for a good time and free flights?

Comments are closed.