Nunavut's Health Department pushes home billets to curb overcrowding at boarding home

Nunavut’s health minister is encouraging medical travel patients to organize stays with family and friends to ease stress on Iqaluit's overcrowded boarding home, but one MLA says payment times for billets are lagging.

Payment wait times lag for hosts of medical travel patients, MLA says

Payed residential billets are one way the Nunavut government is trying to solve overcrowding at its contracted medical travel boarding homes, Nunavut Health Minister George Hickes tells the Legislature Oct. 22. (Beth Brown/CBC)

Nunavut's health minister is encouraging medical travel patients to plan their accommodations ahead of time through billets with family and friends.

Home billets are one way the government of Nunavut is looking to reduce overcrowding in its medical boarding homes, Minister George Hickes said in the legislative assembly this week.

People who provide the billets will be paid for the stay. 

"We do pay quite well for people who are billeting health patients," Hickes said Monday.   

But Iqaluit-Niaqunnguu MLA Pat Angnakak told the legislature Tuesday that her constituents are struggling with the payment system for those billets. 

"A number of my constituents are extremely frustrated at the length of time it takes to get paid for providing billeting services," she said. "They are not paid up front and it costs a lot of money to buy food and to provide a space for people who come here for medical care. Some have been waiting for months." 

Residents who host medical travel patients wait a long time to be paid for it, Iqaluit-Niaqunnguu MLA Pat Angnakak says. (Beth Brown/CBC )

Hickes explained that the Health Department pays for billets planned in advance through the government. But, when billets are planned through a medical boarding home when that space is out of rooms, those billets are paid by the contractor. 

He said he learned recently of the delays and said his staff are working with boarding homes to streamline the payments. 

"When you're taking people in your home and providing food and shelter there are increased costs associated," he said. "We want to make sure that we promote this as an opportunity for people to stay with friends and family and for them to be reimbursed appropriately."

Government hopeful for hotels for travelling patients 

The billeting conversation started Monday, when Uqqummiut MLA Pauloosie Keyootak asked how often the boarding home was at capacity and how many patients were being housed elsewhere. 

"Because of the overcrowding, the patients are sleeping in utility rooms, living rooms, and so on. Some are elders and it's not something we would like to see," he said. "We don't want to see elders sleeping in utility rooms and laundry rooms with just cots provided. I think it's about time that the Department of Health have discussions with the contractor."

Keyootak asked if the territorial government planned to expand space at Iqaluit's overcrowded Tammaativvik boarding home. 

"It is up to the contractor, in this case Nova Group, whether they would decide to expand their existing infrastructure in the community," Hickes told Keyootak. It's also up to the contractor to find rooms offsite for patients when the medical boarding home is full, he said. 

The government of Nunavut contracts the Nova Group to manage the Tammaativvik medical boarding home. Hickes says when there is overflow at the boarding home, it's the contractors job to pay for other accommodation like billets. (Jordan Konek/CBC)

Nova Group is building a new hotel across the street from the Iqaluit boarding home. The company also owns the Discovery Hotel. 

Asked Tuesday by Angnakak if the Health Department was in touch with Nova Group about using the new hotel to house patients, the minister said not directly, but he's hopeful that new hotels can be used to curb overcrowding at the medical boarding home. 

"As the increased rooms become available I'm hoping some of that overflow won't be so challenging," Hickes said.