Aging phone systems 'beginning to fail' at Yukon's rural health centres

The government of Yukon will replace phone systems at 11 community health centres, saying the current 20-year-old phone and fax lines are breaking down.

'Sometimes we can't even find the parts,' says health department spokesperson

The community health centre in Ross River, one of 11 rural Yukon health centres that will be getting new phone systems. (Nancy Thomson/CBC)

Telephone and fax systems at most of Yukon's rural health centres are obsolete and "beginning to fail," according to a government tender.

The territorial government is looking to replace the phones systems that were installed two decades ago at 11 community health centres. The Nortel BCM 50 systems have been discontinued by the manufacturer.

"We've had some issues where the phones have actually gone down," said Pat Living, spokesperson for Yukon's department of Health and Social Services. 

Repairs are difficult if not impossible, because "sometimes we can't even find the parts," Living said.

The health centres getting new systems are in Beaver Creek, Carmacks, Carcross, Destruction Bay, Faro, Haines Junction, Mayo, Old Crow, Pelly Crossing, Ross River and Teslin.

The biggest headaches have been in Mayo and Beaver Creek, where, according to the government's tender document, "phone systems are barely functioning and are being kept operating with a bandage approach by Northwestel."

Northwestel would not speak to CBC about its work on the health centre phones.

Nurses never out of touch

Despite the problems, Living said Yukoners' health has never been at risk because of the lousy phones.

"Fortunately, we do have sat[ellite] phones, so our nurses are not out of contact if they need to be trying to get an ambulance, or if someone's trying to get a hold of them in a community.

"We have not had any instances where we've not been able to reach our nurses in a community."

Living said the government has now instituted a process to better track the lifespan of equipment, to ensure things are replaced at the right time.

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