Yellowknife's Stanton Territorial Hospital is seen from the Frame Lake trail in September 2022. Ollie Williams/Cabin Radio
Wait times to access audiology services in the Northwest Territories have slightly improved in the Beaufort Delta over the past year and a half, while worsening in some cases in Yellowknife.
In March last year, while patients could access services within days in urgent cases, adults had to wait up to 26 months to see an audiologist in Yellowknife and 19 months in the Beaufort Delta.
At that time, there was one audiologist for each of Yellowknife and Inuvik while a second position at the Stanton Territorial Hospital was vacant.
The territory’s health and social services authority recently told Cabin Radio adults now have to wait between one and 17 months to see an audiologist in the Beaufort Delta and Sahtu, based on priority, and children one to 14 months.
In Yellowknife, adults have to wait between two weeks and 42 months (that’s three and a half years). Children must wait between two weeks and 29 months.
People experiencing sudden-onset hearing loss, head injury, or with high-risk factors for permanent childhood hearing loss are seen within 72 hours across the regions, the health authority said.
There are now four audiologist positions across the territory. The authority said one of those positions is vacant but intermittently filled by casual staff when possible, and the NWT government is working to hire for that role on a full-time basis.
Lengthy wait times to see an audiologist have been a persistent problem in the territory.
In a letter submitted as part of a March 2023 House of Commons committee report on Canada’s health workforce crisis, the sole audiologist working in Yellowknife at the time described feeling “overworked and burnt out.” She said the second position at the hospital had been unfilled since August 2021 and understaffing meant people in the NWT and western Nunavut were going without basic audiological care.
“With our long wait lists we are putting up barriers, not breaking them down,” she wrote.
“The cost of this is immeasurable.”
The letter stated lack of timely audiology care means children may have untreated hearing loss, which can affect speech, language, social and academic development.
In October 2018, Frame Lake MLA Kevin O’Reilly told the legislature that in April that year, children had to wait up to 70 weeks to see an audiologist, or about 16 months, and adults up to 38 weeks, equivalent to roughly nine months.