Medical boarding homes 'over capacity' in Yellowknife and Edmonton

Medical boarding homes in Yellowknife and Edmonton are operating at over capacity with people staying in hotels to meet the growing demand for accommodations.

Kitikmeot Inuit Association calls for expansion at both facilities

The Larga Kitikmeot medical boarding home in Yellowknife is over capacity. (Kate Kyle/CBC)

Two medical boarding homes in Yellowknife and Edmonton don't have enough beds for patients on most nights, forcing the overflow of clients to stay in hotels, and in some cases have their appointments rescheduled.

Larga Kitikmeot in Yellowknife and Larga Ltd. in Edmonton offer accommodations, food and transportation to appointments for people travelling from the Kitikmeot region in western Nunavut and the N.W.T.'s Mackenzie region, on medical travel to those cities.

Both facilities can accommodate 58 people each. Over the last year, demand for rooms has spiked. Yellowknife has seen a 22 per cent occupancy increase, and in Edmonton there's been an approximate 40 per cent jump in demand, said Casey Adlem, president of Larga Kitikmeot and Larga Ltd.

"We're at over capacity right now probably every week," said Adlem, who added that the shortage has escalated over the last year. She said it's not clear what is driving the boom in both cities.

Hotels are the first option for dealing with the overflow. However, the situation is tougher to triage in Yellowknife because of its booming tourism sector.

Casey Adlem is the president of Larga Kitikmeot and Larga Ltd. in Edmonton. (Kate Kyle/CBC)

"We're using, you know, 30 to 40 hotel rooms and with the tourism season we just don't have any more rooms," she said.

This week, a common room at Larga Kitikmeot was converted into a temporary private room with cots because there weren't enough available hotel rooms.

Adlem said that's happened about a handful of times over the last six months, usually when patients are discharged from the hospital after hours and there are no hotel rooms. They do their best to pair people travelling together, she said.

CBC News spoke with one person on medical travel who was surprised and uncomfortable with the idea of not being in a traditional room. Others posted about the demand for rooms on Facebook.

A common room at Larga Kitikmeot has been converted into a temporary private bedroom to meet the demand for accommodations. (Submitted by Maria Kayasark)

"We do our best to make sure they are safe and comfortable … they might not be happy about it, but they will stay in the common room because they know they have nowhere else to go," said Adlem. "We don't have any other options at that point."

Flight delays can mean people are stuck in limbo in Yellowknife for days, creating even more demand for beds. 

Last year "a few people" had their appointments rescheduled or were sent to Edmonton because of accommodation shortages, Adlem said.

"That's the last thing we like to do…. I can understand why people get stressed out or worried about it. I would too," said Adlem, who said medical travel and the Nunavut government consult with medical staff to prioritize appointments.

'Trying to make it stretch'

The increase in demand is not only felt by patients. Kitchen staff are feeling the pressure, too.

On Thursday, Heather Adjun prepared a tuna casserole lunch for more than 100 people.

"I'm just trying to make it stretch — lots of prep and lots of vegetables. I get tired but I take little breaks," she said.

Larga Kitikmeot says most people prefer to stay at the boarding home than go to a hotel. The staff say it feels more like family for people who come from smaller communities.

"It's their home away from home. We do our best to make them feel comfortable," Adjun said.

'It's their home away from home. We do our best to make them feel comfortable,' said Heather Adjun as she prepared tuna casserole for more than 100. (Kate Kyle/CBC)

The Kitikmeot Inuit Association (KIA) would like to see both facilities expanded, or look at other avenues to support the increase in clients, according to a resolution passed at the KIA's annual general meeting earlier this month.

It also calls for discussions with both the Nunavut and Northwest Territories governments about making operating contracts longer.

"Take the contract to the bank ... and seek that funding that they require to expand their facilities to meet the demand," said Fred Pedersen, director of planning and communication for the KIA.

In an email to CBC News, a spokesperson for Nunavut's Department of Health said the department is working with the current contractor to provide adequate accommodations for medical travellers in Yellowknife.

As of end of day Thursday, the department could not provide CBC with statistics on how often appointments are rescheduled because of room shortages in Yellowknife. However, it did confirm that "no medical appointments scheduled to take place in Yellowknife this week have been rescheduled due to boarding home accommodations."

Occasionally medical travellers "may be required to share accommodations temporarily if there are not enough private rooms available." In most cases, guests are provided a private room within 24 hours, the email stated.


Kate Kyle is a reporter for CBC North based in Yellowknife. Find her on Twitter @_kate_kyle