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Health

Wait times to see an audiologist in the NWT are worsening


Wait times to access audiology services, a persistent problem in the Northwest Territories, are worsening. The health minister says recruitment challenges are partly to blame. 

Health minister Julie Green this week said adults must wait 19 months to see an audiologist in the Beaufort Delta and 26 months in Yellowknife. In urgent cases, she said, patients can access services within days. 

“We have been challenged to maintain service levels in the NWT because the audiology profession is in high demand,” Green told the legislature on Tuesday. 

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There are currently two audiologists in the NWT: one in Inuvik and one at Stanton Territorial Hospital in Yellowknife. A second position at the Yellowknife hospital has been vacant since August. Green said work to fill the role is ongoing.

Mary Tapsell, vice president of the Yellowknife Seniors’ Society, told Cabin Radio long wait times are particularly a concern for seniors who are more susceptible to hearing loss. She noted the impacts of Alzheimer’s and dementia are exacerbated by hearing loss, and people need to have a hearing test before they can get a hearing aid. 

“You don’t want to wait two or three years to miss out on the quality of life,” she said. “It’s like a right, really.”

Green said the territory is unique in Canada in publicly funding audiology services. While residents can – and do – travel beyond the NWT to access services, the minister said they would have to inquire if their own insurance plans cover those costs.

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The Department of Health and Social Services told Cabin Radio referrals outside the territory are limited to audiology services not offered in the NWT, like cochlear implants.

‘This is totally unacceptable’

The wait time to access audiology services has long been an issue.

In October 2018, Frame Lake MLA Kevin O’Reilly pointed to “mounting demand and longer wait times” over the preceding four years. According to the Department of Health and Social Services, O’Reilly said at the time, 10 adults were waiting up to a week to see an audiologist in April 2014. By April 2018, 180 patients were waiting 38 weeks.

Wait times were worse for children, O’Reilly said, increasing from 16 weeks in April 2014 to 70 weeks in April 2018.

“Imagine 70 weeks waiting for an appointment,” he told the Legislative Assembly at the time. “A child can go an entire school year without being tested or assisted with hearing difficulties. This is totally unacceptable.” 

While then-health minister Glen Abernethy said adding the Beaufort Delta audiologist position would help to manage the backlog, Green’s statement this week suggests the opposite has been the case, with the Yellowknife wait time now 113 weeks for adults.

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