Nunavut health minister pitches Kivalliq medical boarding home as way to ease travel issues

Nunavut Health Minister Pat Angnakak says having a medical boarding home in the Kivalliq would help some of the challenges with medical travel in the region, which one MLA calls a 'systemic failure.'

Comprehensive review of medical travel underway

The Tammaativvik Medical Boarding Home in Iqaluit is the only medical boarding home in Nunavut. (Jordan Konek/CBC)

Nunavut Health Minister Pat Angnakak says having a medical boarding home in the Kivalliq would help ease some of the challenges with medical travel in the region.

Angnakak said she pitched the idea of a boarding home to federal Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott, whom Angnakak said was "very receptive to it."

Aivilik MLA Patterk Netser called Nunavut's medical travel services "a systemic failure" in the Legislative Assembly Wednesday. 

Airline ticket mix-ups, miscommunication, and confusion around out-of-territory doctor's appointments are all contributing to the problem, Netser said.

Aivilik MLA Patterk Netser says Nunavut’s medical travel services are 'a systemic failure.' (Courtesy Patterk Netser)

"Throughout the holidays and well into this new year, I've been hearing of far too many mix-ups within medical travel for this situation to be considered a simple series of mistakes or miscommunications," Netser said.

"I recognize that organizing and delivering medical services is a complex task. However, medical travel is a very costly service and we cannot afford to waste precious dollars through mistakes and miscommunication, which is always the case here."

According to the government's 2017-2020 business plan, Nunavut spends $63 million a year on medical transportation, including transportation within the territory. It accounts for roughly 19 per cent of the Department of Health's main estimate budget.

Angnakak couldn't provide a number on how much money medical travel errors have cost the government but acknowledged it is a problem.

"I agree we have problems when it comes to the travel, accommodations, escorts, appointments. It will take some time to figure this out," Angnakak said.

"It's not an easy thing that we can just fix overnight. It's very complex. It involves lots of people, lots of entities, and it's not just in the Kivalliq. We also have problems in the Qikiqtaaluk region and the Kitikmeot."

Comprehensive review underway

Angnakak said the previous government, under then-Health Minister George Hickes, began a review of the medical travel concerns in July 2017. She hopes to have it completed by 2019.

"Even though we're going through a comprehensive review, we can still address problems as they come up on a daily basis," Angnakak said, adding there's a number to call to handle medical travel complaints.

"I know there's a problem. It's going to take some time because I just don't have that magic wand."

Patients sometimes miss appointments too, Angnakak says

While Angnakak wouldn't commit to even analyzing how much money the aforementioned mistakes have cost taxpayers, she lays some of the blame on the taxpayers themselves.

"I just want to remind the members that sometimes the missed appointments, it's not always because somebody didn't tell a patient that they had an appointment and then they show up and there's no appointment. Sometimes patients themselves don't go to appointments," Angnakak said.

"So it's not just one way. There's many reasons why some of these appointments are missed. But this is something the department is looking at."


Nick Murray


Nick Murray is a CBC News reporter, based in Iqaluit since 2015. He specializes in investigative reporting and access to information legislation. A graduate from St. Thomas University's journalism program, he's also covered four Olympic Games as a senior writer with CBC Sports.