Caring for all Yukoners is a priority for this government

Mike Nixon, MLA for Porter Creek South As submitted to the Whitehorse Star on Friday, May 13, 2015
by Mike Nixon, Minister of Health & Social Services

The past two weeks have been busy and exciting ones for me as Yukon’s Minister of Health and Social Services.

One of the highlights came last week, when I tabled our Mental Wellness Strategy 2016-2026: Forward Together in the Yukon Legislative Assembly.

The 10-year strategy is the result of many months of hard work and collaboration by the Yukon government and our partners: the Council of Yukon First Nations, the Kwanlin Dün First Nation and the Mental Health Association Yukon.

The release of the document coincided with national Mental Health Week, an annual event that takes place during the first week of May to encourage people from all walks of life to learn, talk, reflect and engage with others on all issues relating to mental health.

Considered holistically, mental wellness balances the mental, physical, spiritual and emotional aspects of our lives. Our strategy recognizes the significant interaction between mental health, addictions and trauma, and acknowledges that interventions must take a “whole person” approach. It recognizes that we must look at the broader social determinants of health and the importance of culture.

The strategy is a “living document”, which means it will change over the coming decade as the Yukon government continues to conduct research, adopt new practices and learn from experience. The strategy’s immediate focus is on the next two years.

After meeting with multiple stakeholders and our First Nation partners we identified three priorities that will guide us for the next 24 months: improving access to mental health, trauma and substance use services through the integration of services; focusing on child, youth and family-focused initiatives; and building community capacity through training and development.

As we announced last month, Yukon communities will soon have access to $1 million in funding to help them meet the mental health needs of their citizens.

The Mental Health Innovation fund will support the principles and priorities of our Mental Wellness Strategy. It will help communities create mental wellness initiatives that meet their specific needs. We’re currently working with our partners, communities, stakeholders and service providers to develop criteria for the fund.

Meeting the mental wellness needs of every Yukoner is a challenge. We accept the challenge and we are moving forward together.

We also announced this week that we are allocating an additional $244,000 this year to expand home care services in the territory.

Our government is committed to helping seniors stay in their own homes as long as possible. We fully appreciate that people want to age in place and we are dedicated to helping individuals and their families make that happen.

Yukoners may not be aware of the fact that our Home Care program is one of the most comprehensive in the country. Services it offers include medical support, counselling, bathing, light housekeeping and meal preparation, as well as assistance with daily living activities.

Yukon currently has no wait list for Home Care services – something unheard-of in other Canadian jurisdictions. And I’m proud to say these services are offered free of charge to all who require them.

Home care is a cost-effective and integral part of our health care system. It helps keep patients in their homes, and not in acute-care beds in our hospitals. This makes those beds available for elective surgeries and other much-needed uses.

The funding in this year’s budget will allow us to add three home-care staff, or another 5,850 hours of service, to increase in-home supports for Yukon seniors and others who need specialized care. This is in addition to significant increases over the past fourteen years.

Caring for all Yukoners is a priority for this government.

To that end, I also announced this week that we are allocating an additional $1.277 million in the year ahead to cover the costs of the Hepatitis C drugs, Sovaldi and Harvoni.

In 2015, 43 Yukoners started treatment for Hepatitis C. This is a more than three-fold increase compared to previous years. The drugs used to treat the infection are effective, but very expensive – the cost for a full treatment can run upwards of $90,000.

For this reason, we believe it is important to help Yukoners who don’t have access to private insurance or whose private insurance won’t cover the entire cost.

We’re proud of these recent announcements, and will continue working to ensure that our health-care system is among the best in Canada.