Whitehorse Daily Star

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LEADERSHIP APLENTY – Dr. Katharine Smart will serve as the president-elect of the Yukon Medical Association for most of 2019. She is seen Friday afternoon with the current president, Dr. Alex Poole. right: Dr. Gigi Osler

YMA’s president-elect to work with incumbent

The Yukon Medical Association (YMA) has a new president-elect for the year after last week’s annual general meeting.

By Palak Mangat on November 5, 2018

The Yukon Medical Association (YMA) has a new president-elect for the year after last week’s annual general meeting.

Dr. Katharine Smart will serve as the group’s president for two years come late 2019, but is serving alongside current president Dr. Alex Poole as the president-elect until then.

It’s the first time the group has had both a president and president-elect serving at the same time, to better allow the president-elect to adjust to the territory and the YMA.

Smart has been in the Yukon for just over a year, after having arrived in September 2017.

A pediatrician by trade, she hopes to bring a focus on outreach to particular communities that require more care.

“I think there’s lots of room to look at how we reach out to vulnerable youth in the communities,” Smart told reporters shortly after the group’s AGM finished Friday afternoon.

That meeting also saw Dr. Gigi Osler, the president of the Canadian Medical Association (CMA), and Health and Social Services Minister Pauline Frost deliver remarks.

Osler focused in part on broader patterns across the country that her group is looking at down the line.

Frost spoke about the upcoming comprehensive review for her department (among other things).

As noted in the legislature last week, that review is set to wrap up during the fall of 2019.

“The review isn’t about cost savings, nor it is about cutting programs or services,” Frost told a packed room at the Coast High Country Inn.

“It’s more about identifying a plan to slow the growth in our biggest cost drivers working toward more sustainable health and social systems.”

She cited the rising cost of things like continuing care and medical travel that could lead to the territory changing up the models by which it delivers some of its programs.

That could come out of the review, Frost added.

She also referenced statistics that showed the HSS department funds about 35 NGOs.

While all are assessed by their outcome, she suggested there could be more checks and balances in places to examine these grants.

The AGM also discussed the pressures to be faced in the territory as the population continues to age.

By 2030, Frost noted, 30 per cent of Yukon’s population is to be made up of those aged 55 or older.

With that aging group may come the need for specialized services not available in the territory – perhaps leading to an increase in medical travel costs, the minister noted.

It’s a topic that Frost and the government have been questioned on frequently during this fall sitting, with it coming up most recently as last Thursday.

That’s after the Yukon Party’s Patti McLeod asked how seriously the government is looking at the option of copayments (so requiring patients to share in the payment for medical travel).

The minister did not reveal any specific details, except to say that it could all feed into the overarching work set to be completed by the fall of 2019.

“Our medical travel expenses were conducted historically and not something that we’re going to look at one off. We’re going to look at it as a comprehensive review,” Frost said.

According to the minister, those costs can be as high as $15 million for the Yukon.

An HSS spokesperson confirmed early this afternoon that over the last couple of years, the cost has ranged from $13 million to $15 million per year.

“That’s a challenge for us so we’re trying to balance that with services and of course maximizing opportunities,” Frost said Friday.

The minister also pointed to the newly-signed agreements last July that will see more than $30 million flow into health care services thanks to two agreements.

At that time, it was announced that $25.6 million over four years would be spent on medical travel and health system innovation.

It’s part of the territory’s portion of the Territorial Health Investment Fund (THIF). At the AGM on Friday, the minister offered a couple more details.

“We will begin new innovative approaches focused on building overall capacity and offsetting costs of medical travel,” Frost said, noting that about $2.1 million will be allocated to medical travel thanks to the funding. That amount will be per year, and carry the territory into 2021.

Meanwhile, the minister is set to announce the makeup of an independent expert panel.

Its members will provide advice to the department “on ways to improve program effectiveness, enhance outcomes and provide better value for money,” in the coming days.

For her part, Osler stressed the consideration of pan-Canadian solutions to pan-Canadian problems.

Some of the discussion at the AGM focused on getting a feel for how the YMA felt about the idea of a Canada-wide licence to practice, for example.

That is an idea that the CMA is currently looking into, as well as encouraging its partners to adopt more technology into the system – which could help particularly remote areas like those in the Yukon, Osler said.

Poole added that pilot projects for virtual visits to become more widespread would be best suited to begin in areas like Dawson City or Watson Lake.

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