April 14, 2024

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Dental care increases medical travel, need for beds in Yellowknife

Dental patients from across the Northwest Territories have been increasing the need for beds in Yellowknife, forcing patients to be sent to stay elsewhere. 

Health Minister Lesa Semmler said when the boarding home in Yellowknife gets full, it uses local hotels for patients who need a place to stay while attending appointments in the city.

Semmler said the occupancy at the boarding home has increased by 50 per cent since April last year. 

“Recently, the increased demand on medical travel related to dental is a huge factor,” said Semmler.

Amanda Lennie and her son Dominic are among many patients from Inuvik who have had to travel to Yellowknife for dental care after the Inuvik clinic closed. (Submitted by Amanda Lennie )

Mackenzie Delta MLA George Nerysoo said he recently had a medical appointment and travelled to Yellowknife for it. The boarding home was full, so he was sent to the Quality Inn to stay.

“The noted hotel is not suitable for anyone to stay, let alone patients. These people vary from dental patients to cancer patients,” said Nerysoo.

“No matter the severity of their condition, nobody should be made to stay at this hotel.” 

His comments echoed concerns raised earlier in February.

One Inuvik mother would like to see better communication to patients about their travel. Amanda Lennie recently came to Yellowknife for dental work for herself and her son. She has two other children who also need to see a dentist.

The Western Arctic Dental Group clinic in Inuvik has been closed for months. CBC could not confirm when exactly they closed their doors. There are currently no plans to bring another dentist to town.

Lennie called a dentist in Yellowknife for an appointment. She said that call was in November. In January, she was called about her and her son’s visit.

She said she got confirmation of her flight last minute, and found out her appointment times were different than what she was given by medical travel.

“I am lucky I have family in Yellowknife — they were able to pick us up and bring us to our appointment at the right time,” said Lennie.

Hotel with car in front
The Quality Inn in downtown Yellowknife. (Travis Burke/CBC)

She said she hopes the department that handles medical travel in Inuvik will have better communication with patients waiting for travel dates.

“It was really stressful because I took time off work and had my child with me as well,” said Lennie.

Inuvik Boot Lake MLA Denny Rodgers says the lack of dental services has been hard for families.

“You know the burden on families as well, travelling back and forth to Yellowknife. You’re hearing lots of stories, as I have, about shortages of accommodations, not getting properly accommodated while in Yellowknife, and it’s difficult,” said Rodgers.

“That’s a service we always had and should have in Inuvik, so we need to look at options.”

Lennie says she hopes that the territorial government will put out a statement on both the situation with the lack of dental services in Inuvik and the concerns she has heard with medical travel bookings out of Inuvik.

“I have nothing against the staff at medical travel. I just think they need more support,” she said.