Category: Mike Nixon Letters

Solving our health care challenges – together

Mike Nixon, MLA for Porter Creek South As submitted to the Whitehorse Star on Friday, July 22, 2016
by Mike Nixon, Minister of Health & Social Services

Increasing access to vital health services and improving care for Yukoners has always been a priority for our government.

This week, Premier Darrell Pasloski and I, along with the Yukon Hospital Corporation, were pleased to announce another step forward for our government as we continue to provide a high level of care to Yukoners in need.

We are creating more continuing care beds, adding additional home care supports, and increasing supports for those already in care. And we are doing all this in the next 90 days.

Recently, bed shortage pressures at the Whitehorse General Hospital (WGH) came to the forefront. Acute-care beds required for surgery recovery and treatment were occupied by Yukon seniors requiring long-term care.

Yukon has 193 continuing-care beds for individuals who require extensive care and cannot be maintained through Home Care Services. These long-term care beds are fully occupied, and the waiting list continues to grow.

Those awaiting a place in long-term care are often unable to remain in their own homes, so they are accommodated in acute-care hospital beds. This has increased pressure not only on hospital staff, but on other patients as well.

We are pleased that this challenge was met with an impressive response by Health and Social Services officials, and hospital staff and administrators.

Doctors, nurses, and department officials were able to come together and find solutions that will help tackle the obstacles we face day-to-day, while ensuring that each and every Yukoner has the level of care they deserve.

As a result, our government has a plan to address growing pressures at the Whitehorse General Hospital, to support our health-care professionals, and to provide more continuing care beds across the territory.

With an investment of up to $5 million, our plan forward will improve the situation in a variety of areas.

The most significant will be the addition of a 10-bed unit in the Thomson Centre in Whitehorse. Renovations are starting immediately, and these vital beds will be available to patients by October.

To support our hospital staff, new programming will enable continuing-care staff to provide support to the patients who must remain in the hospital. This will allow hospital staff to focus on their acute-care patients and on emergency admissions.

In addition, over the last several years we have consistently increased home-care services, but more recently, in listening to feedback from Yukoners, we will be extending service hours to evenings and weekends for those who require it. WGH will continue to ensure the safe discharge of long-term care patients with the necessary supports, and the extension of home-care hours will ensure they receive an adequate level of care at home with their families.

With this plan, we are able to build upon the hard work of hospital, home-care and continuing-care staff and increase their capacity so that all Yukoners receive an appropriate level of care as they wait for placement in a continuing care facility.

Our collective actions to address this pressure are only one aspect of our government’s larger continuing-care commitment. We are seeing that Yukoners can trust this government to take action on the issues that affect the daily lives of our families and friends.

I am extremely proud of the efforts from those working tirelessly to alleviate bed pressures at the hospital and our other care facilities.  I want to thank all the doctors, nurses, departmental staff and leaders who were brought together in developing this plan, to find short-term solutions as we await the opening of our much needed Whistle Bend facility in 2018.

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.

Canada Cares awards celebrate contributions of Yukoners

Mike Nixon, MLA for Porter Creek South As submitted to the Whitehorse Star on Friday, December 11, 2015
by Mike Nixon, Minister of Health & Social Services

As the father of a son with autism, I, along with other families in similar situations, am particularly aware of the challenges facing anyone who must provide care for a loved one with special needs.

Family caregivers are the invisible backbone of Canada’s health and long-term care systems. They provide care and assistance to spouses, children, parents and other family members who are in need of support because of age, debilitating medical conditions, chronic injury, long-term illness or disability.

According to a Statistics Canada study in 2012, eight million Canadians, or 28 per cent of the population aged 15 and over, provided care to family members or friends. These people, and the dedicated health care professionals who work alongside them, often go unrecognized as they generously give of themselves day after day.

Canada Cares is a non-profit organization that seeks to change that. Founded by Caroline Tapp-McDougall in 2011, it celebrates, says thank you, and recognizes the efforts of family members, friends and health professionals who provide care and support in their community.

This important organization encourages families, workplaces, governments, industry and other stakeholders to support caregivers, and to recognize the importance of caregiving to both the quality of life and the economic and social well-being of our nation.

Each year since 2012, Canada Cares has sought nominations from across the country for its Caregiver Awards, the only program of its kind in Canada. These prestigious awards recognize both family and professional caregivers from coast to coast, as well as support from a caring community and an employer.

This year, the Honourable David Laxton, Speaker of the Yukon Legislative Assembly, submitted three award nominations. It’s my pleasure to write that these nominations have resulted in two awards and an honourable mention for Yukon.

Former Yukon commissioner Geraldine Van Bibber brought home the award for Inspirational Voice: Professional Caregiver, Northern Region, for her work in founding and organizing the Yukoners Cancer Care Fund.

Throughout the year, Geraldine and a dedicated group of volunteers work diligently to provide assistance to individuals and families dealing with cancer. Her thoughts and counsel are frequently sought by individuals, community groups and members of the government. As of April 2015, Geraldine and her team have assisted 22 families, and the number keeps growing.

This year’s Caregiver Friendly Workplace award was handed out to the Yukon Hospital Foundation, which administers the funds for the Yukoners Cancer Care Fund. The foundation also motivates and educates individuals, businesses and organizations about the need for more and better caregiving. According to Speaker Laxton, without the Foundation, Yukon would not have some of the “best caregivers possible.”

Foundation president Karen Forward and manager Harmony Hunter were singled out for their hard work and dedication to the organization.

Under the Caring Community award category, Speaker Laxton nominated the community of Yukon, which was recognized with a well-deserved honourable mention. Yukoners are generous, caring and compassionate people who do not see helping others as an obligation; rather, it is just what we do here in the North.

I offer my congratulations and sincere thanks to Ms. Van Bibber, Ms. Forward and Ms. Hunter for their selflessness and commitment to their communities.

I encourage everyone to visit www.canadacares.org to learn more, and to consider nominating an outstanding Yukon caregiver in the future to express our thanks and appreciation.

Health care, housing and continuing care for seniors: A Yukon government priority

Mike Nixon, MLA for Porter Creek SouthStacey Hassard, MLA for Pelly-NisutlinAs submitted to the Whitehorse Star on Friday, October 2, 2015
by Stacey Hassard, Minister responsible for the Yukon Housing Corporation
and Mike Nixon, Minister of Health & Social Services

The Yukon Party government has a proven track record of investment in the health and wellbeing of Yukon seniors and elders. Since forming government in 2002, we have made significant investments in health care for seniors, ranging from basic supportive services that help them remain independently at home to long term facilities for complex care.

We make every effort to help seniors stay in their own homes and in their own communities, with family and friends nearby. But when that is not possible, we are proud to offer them the finest in continuing care programs. Seniors and elders are an essential part of our families and of our communities. Many are parents, grandparents and great grandparents who are at the centre of family life. We want to give back and care for them, as they have cared for us.

There is broad agreement that remaining at home, or “aging in place” is the ideal strategy for most. For those who cannot do so, our government dedicates extensive resources to social housing through the Yukon Housing Corporation and to continuing care facilities through the Department of Health and Social Services.

Seniors’ social housing is primarily for low-income individuals who cannot obtain affordable and suitable housing on the private housing market. The Yukon Housing Corporation (YHC) has 200 residential units in its social housing stock that are exclusively for seniors and provide opportunity for those aged 65 years and older (or over 55 with mobility challenges) to live independently. The seniors’ buildings offer residents affordable housing that is safe and convenient. For example, the new Mayo seniors’ 6-plex includes wheelchair access, push-button elevating cabinets, way-finding and visual aids, large low-threshold showers, and common areas for socializing. The safe and comfortable units provide lower income seniors with the option to age in place in their community.

The design features of YHC’s newest buildings benefit from the input of an Accessibility Advisory Committee, comprised of Yukon Housing Corporation and Health and Social Services staff, along with community partners from groups such as the Yukon Council on Aging and the Challenge-Disability Resource Group.

Yukon Housing Corporation also prioritizes housing placement for those seniors that need to move from rural Yukon to a community with hospital services in order to be closer to critical medical care.

When medical needs are greater than can be managed at home, even with professional assistance, moving to a continuing care facility is often the wisest and safest option. And in many cases, it’s the only option. There are currently four continuing care facilities in Yukon: Copper Ridge Place, Thomson Centre, and Macaulay Lodge in Whitehorse, and McDonald Lodge in Dawson City.

Yukon continuing care staff endeavour to create a feeling of home and belonging for all residents. They are dedicated to understanding the unique needs of each and every resident. Employees work hard to create a community that respects and promotes dignity, individual freedom, choice, lifestyle and meaningful quality living while at the same time managing acute health care needs.

Copper Ridge Place is a 96-bed continuing care facility that provides complex care for seniors and non-seniors with chronic ailments or those who need extensive assistance with activities of daily living on a 24-hour basis. It also has a special care program providing individualized care in a therapeutic and secure environment for clients with dementia.

Thomson Centre is a 29-bed facility that also offers high level continuing care services, while Macaulay Lodge, with 47 beds, currently offers intermediate level residential care, in addition to respite care for seniors and adults with complex care needs.

McDonald Lodge, located in Dawson City, provides continuing care for those who require light to moderate assistance and personal care. It has 9 residential beds and 2 respite beds. It also provides home care nursing, home support services and meals on wheels to clients who live in their own homes.

In addition, we are building a new 150-bed continuing care facility in the Whistle Bend area of Whitehorse, designed to provide the highest levels of care for those who require 24/7 nursing care and monitoring. It will be a warm and comfortable home, while offering the necessary medical care, including community hospice palliative care, a specialized mental health unit, a community day program, a First Nation healing centre and a traditional food program.

As a government, we are proud of our legacy of consistently considering all aspects of health care for Yukon seniors and elders, as well as our record of timely investment in their well-being.

As Ministers of Yukon Housing Corporation and Health and Social Services we would like to thank each and every employee for their professionalism and their dedication as they contribute to the care of Yukon seniors and elders.

For more information on social housing go to http://www.housing.yk.ca/seniors.html.
For more information on continuing care programs go to http://www.hss.gov.yk.ca/residentialcare.php.

To speak with someone about housing options for seniors in Yukon, call 867-667-5712.

Investing in Home Care for the Independence of Yukon Seniors

Mike Nixon, MLA for Porter Creek South As submitted to the Whitehorse Star on Friday, September 25, 2015
by Mike Nixon, Minister of Health & Social Services

In the course of everyday life, most of us do not think about our health and its relationship to our independence. We generally take our physical mobility and ability to look after ourselves for granted. But as we age, it is quite natural to require some sort of assistance to maintain our independence. Our government recognizes this need and is very proud of our long record of investing in supportive services to help seniors and elders stay in their own homes longer.

Yukon’s home care services are among the most comprehensive in Canada. We offer professional services such as nursing, social work, and therapies; personal care services such as assistance with dressing, bathing, dining, transfers and mobility in the home; and homemaking services, which focus on sanitation and safety.

National studies show that providing such services right at home is not only the preferred choice for many seniors, but is also the most cost-effective strategy. In Yukon, the average daily cost of home care services is $38 per day. In-patient care at the hospital daily rate is $2,101. With appropriate support, we have seen that some seniors with very complex care needs can return home from hospital and regain their independence.

In 2011, the Yukon Party campaigned on the promise to significantly boost supports to help seniors and that is just what we have done.

Since being first elected in 2002, the Yukon Party governments have steadily and consistently increased the budget for home care to ensure all Yukoners can benefit. In 2002/2003, the annual budget for home care was $2,071,779. The 2015/2016 budget is $5,992,406 – a significant increase in investment.

We provide home care services in Carmacks, Carcross/Tagish, Dawson City, Faro, Haines Junction (including the north highway), Mayo, Old Crow, Pelly Crossing, Ross River, Teslin and Watson Lake, as well as in the Whitehorse area.

I am pleased to say that there is no waiting list for our home care services. Anyone who is covered under the Yukon Health Care Insurance Plan can apply to qualify.

The program works closely with First Nation governments, medical facilities and other community organizations to provide the most appropriate support.

Personalized home care is not the only service we provide that helps keep seniors in their homes. Yukon Housing Corporation has partnered through a funding agreement with the Yukon Council on Aging, which delivers the Home and Yard Maintenance Program. This program matches seniors with community residents registered to provide basic home and yard maintenance and upkeep.

Additionally, the Yukon Housing Corporation’s social housing program helps low-income households live independently. There are currently more than 200 units for seniors in communities across Yukon. In 2015/2016, we are adding 48 seniors’ units in Whitehorse and six more in Mayo.

In June 2015, the Yukon Housing Corporation launched the Accessibility Enhancement Grant, which can allow homeowners to upgrade their residences with accessibility features. This program helps seniors remain independent in their homes so that they are able to age in place. To date, the program has approved 14 applicants providing $314,000 for accessibility upgrades to homes. The grant program will run for two years and provide a total of $800,000 toward accessibility improvements in Yukon homes.

We are also proud to have established the Accessibility Advisory Committee, comprised of Yukon Housing Corporation and Health and Social Services staff, along with community partners from groups such as the Yukon Council on Aging and the Challenge Disability Group. This committee provides advice on accessibility features of new housing projects and on improvements that could be made to the Yukon Housing Corporation’s existing housing facilities. As well, the committee participated in the design of the Accessibility Enhancement Grant, and serves as the approval committee for the application process.

These programs help many seniors and their families, but some seniors have needs beyond what the programs can provide. For these people, Yukon offers long term care facilities that provide high level care.

To learn more about the range of options for seniors’ health care in Yukon and what your Yukon government is doing to support you and those you love, visit http://www.hss.gov.yk.ca/continuing.php.

Last but not least, I want to thank the many hardworking and dedicated staff who provide home care and other services for seniors, and make life in Yukon better for us all.