Yellowknife's booming tourism industry is causing difficulties at the already-crowded medical boarding home for people travelling from Nunavut's Kitikmeot region.
The Larga Kitikmeot boarding home provides somewhere to stay for Inuit travelling from the Kitikmeot in order to receive medical treatment. The home is operated by Larga Ltd, a joint venture between the Nunasi, Kitikmeot, and Gwich’in Development corporations, which runs several such facilities.
Full rooms at Larga Kitikmeot are nothing new, said Casey Adlem, Larga's president. However, accommodating everyone becomes increasingly hard from mid-August until the middle of April as tourists fill Yellowknife's hotel rooms.
"At many times during those months there are no hotel rooms at all, meaning there are no beds for us to use if we're at overcapacity," Adlem told Cabin Radio. "In Yellowknife in particular, this has been a big issue."
This week is a good example of the challenge Larga faces.
According to Adlem, there are 100 clients in Yellowknife for medical reasons and 58 beds available at Larga Kitikmeot, with no room for anyone arriving.
"We have to rely on the hotels and, during tourism season, we don't have options," he said. "Sometimes there are no beds left in Yellowknife."
Tourism is also affecting patients travelling back from Edmonton, where Larga runs another medical boarding home. For the first time, Adlem said, patients travelling back this week could not get a seat aboard a plane bound for Yellowknife.
While tourists can plan a Yellowknife aurora vacation years in advance, medical travel is sometimes needed at the drop of a hat.
"We don't have any say in when medical appointments are scheduled," Adlem said. "There may be a specialist in town and so people might fly in during that time to see a specialist."
The Larga Kitikmeot medical boarding home in Yellowknife. Emelie Peacock/Cabin Radio
Larga Kitikmeot, at the corner of Franklin Avenue and Matonabee Street, is ordinarily full several times a week. Built in 2009, average occupancy in the building was 92 percent in 2018, up from 79 percent in 2017.
Edmonton's Larga sits at 143 percent average occupancy, but the greater availability of hotel rooms in the city makes the lack of Larga rooms less pressing.
According to the Government of Nunavut's health department, 2,794 people eligible to stay at Larga Kitikmeot travelled to Yellowknife in 2018 and 2019. This figure includes clients and those escorting them, communications manager Alison Griffin stated by email.
Only those insured under the Non-Insured Health Benefits plan were eligible to stay at Larga. An additional 636 people travelled to Yellowknife under other insurance plans.
How many appointments were cancelled due to lack of accommodation could not be immediately provided, Griffin stated.
"Each boarding home has a contingency plan in place to accommodate clients and in the majority of cases they are able to do so," Griffin stated. "When accommodations are not available in Yellowknife, health will assess whether the appointment can be rescheduled within a reasonable timeframe or if the client can be treated at another referral centre, such as Edmonton."
Adlem believes uncertainty about where to stay is often the last thing people need when travelling from communities like Cambridge Bay and Kugaaruk.
"Many people travel from small communities and have never been in the city before. So it causes them some stress, and it's difficult for the staff to keep up at times as well," Adlem said.
The Kitikmeot Inuit Association passed a resolution at its annual general meeting last week in support of expanding Larga. Adlem said this could mean expanding the current buildings, looking at another location entirety, "or any kind of option we can come up with to help address this issue."
However, there aren't many suitable parcels of land available in the city. And while the Larga in Yellowknife is on a 10-year contract with the Government of Nunavut, the Larga in Edmonton holds a five-year contract with the Stanton Territorial Health Authority, "which does make it difficult to make these investments," Adlem added by email.
In the meantime, a common room at the Yellowknife boarding home has been turned into a room that can accommodate a family. The corporation has also launched a committee to investigate options for expansion or relocation.