The MLA for Inuvik Twin Lakes says ensuring Elders have someone with them during medical travel is critical, but isn’t always happening.
Lesa Semmler says many of her constituents have reported Elders being denied medical escorts when travelling to Yellowknife, Inuvik, or Edmonton. They have returned from appointments not knowing what happened or what was said.
“This is an ongoing issue for as long as I can remember and it’s time to do something,” she told the legislature on Thursday.
“This is unacceptable and should not be happening in this day and age.”
While Semmler said she considers herself knowledgeable about the medical system, she has also experienced stress, anxiety, and missed appointments while navigating medical travel.
She even missed her child’s surgery while trying to find someone to help her at the hospital in Edmonton.
“I could not imagine an Elder arriving there after the boarding-home driver drops them off,” she said. “Some of these hospitals are larger than some of our smaller communities.”
Semmler called on the health minister, Julie Green, to revise the NWT’s criteria for medical escorts.
Green however, said the policy had recently been revised at the end of the last territorial government, in 2019.
Anyone who has been denied a medical escort can appeal that decision, Green said, but the minister urged residents to plan ahead, adding she gets a lot of “last-minute requests.”
Semmler said planning ahead is more of a challenge than it may seem.
For example, she told Green, people must wait for their medical travel to be approved and could be left with little time to file an appeal.
Green told Semmler she would commit to better understanding where the gaps are. The minister said there is confusion about the difference between a medical escort and compassionate travel and she would work to make that clearer.
Meanwhile, Semmler said, a separate issue had arisen related to the medical travel boarding home in Yellowknife.
If the boarding home is full, people are sent to a hotel. There, said Semmler, they could be alone for hours if they do not have an escort.
That creates a problem, said the Inuvik MLA, as people are not allowed to be alone for 24 hours after surgery. Anyone with no escort and no room at the boarding home is instead sent back home and their surgery is rescheduled.
Even if they do get a room at the boarding home, Semmler noted, staff there aren’t responsible for caring for people if they’re sick after surgery, cleaning their bandages, or helping them to get dressed.