Imagine needing a replacement kidney for over seven years and going through regular dialysis treatments over that period.
Naturally, there would be anxiety from not knowing when a kidney might become available. There would surely be mixed feelings of being grateful that medical technology is advanced enough to keep you alive, but then there’s the inconvenience and monotony of having to devote several hours, three days per week to have a machine remove the toxins and excess water that your failing kidney no longer can.
It would be an emotional rollercoaster.
And then the elation when news finally comes that a suitable match has been found for a transplant. Only to be followed by major disappointment when NWT medical travel staff inform you that your wife cannot accompany you on the medevac flight to Yellowknife for life-enhancing surgery.
Yellowknife’s Roy Dahl lived through that entire experience.
He is now recovering from an operation that should once again allow him to enjoy a more normal existence, with much less frequent medical intervention.
And although his spouse is at his side, he’s left wondering why her trip was paid for through the good graces of Tu Nedhe/Wiilideh MLA Richard Edjericon rather than NWT medical travel, who declared her to be an ineligible non-medical professional and therefore not essential.
What a slap in the face.
In correspondence sent to an MLA on March 28, Health Minister Julie Green addressed her department’s “exceptions policy” for medical travel.
“The exceptions policy is intended to allow for reasonable consideration of unique circumstances on a case-by-case basis that would have previously been denied as the circumstances did not meet the policies’ criterion. The Medical Travel Office does review the exception requests over time to identify potential gaps. If a policy gap is identified, the policy may be amended to address the issue,” Green wrote.
Does Dahl’s situation not cry out for an exemption? We certainly believe it does.
Inuvik Twin Lakes MLA Lesa Semmler has been raising issues about medical travel for the past year and a half. On March 11, she said in the Legislative Assembly: “Medical travel needs an overhaul. Our GNWT employees would revolt if they were treated as our medical travel patients are. And I would like to point out that majority of them are Indigenous.”
Green responded, “We need some kind of system, and if it’s through (Semmler) then that’s one way to learn about client experience and how we can improve on that.”
Well, the minister can consider this coverage in Yellowknifer as another instance of inadequate client experience, because nobody in frail condition should be sent to face major surgery in the south without a trusted companion, when they are fortunate enough to have that option.
Dahl has expressed his gratitude to the many people who have wished him well, to those who contributed to a GoFundMe campaign that helped look after various expenses and to everyone who “has shown kindness and support.”
That surely includes the many hard-working Yellowknife health staff who attended to his needs over the years, but when it comes to the medical travel policy, what happened to him just doesn’t fly.