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No promises on dental services boost in Rankin Inlet

Department of Health “stretched” as is, says minister
Stephanie Ussak from Rankin Inlet had to be sent south earlier this year for specialized dental services, as her top teeth were decaying to the point of severe pain. In the legislative assembly, Nunavut’s Health minister couldn’t promise improvements to dental services in Rankin Inlet, saying its services are stretched due to limited infrastructure and staffing shortages. File photo courtesy of Clarissa Ussak

Earlier this year, Clarissa Ussak told Kivalliq News about the plight of her daughter, who had reached a point of being barely able to eat or drink with swollen gums.

Ussak was awaiting a trip to Manitoba to get her daughter the services she needed, specifically anesthesiology, which is not offered in Rankin Inlet.

Rankin Inlet North-Chesterfield Inlet MLA Alexander Sammurtok used a question in the legislative assembly June 13 to query Minister of Health John Main about whether his department could expand dental services offered in the community so that children could stay closer to home.

“In terms of whether or not we could offer those services in Rankin Inlet, right now I am unable to say,” responded Main. “Having general anaesthetic services for children requires specialized staff, and requires specialized infrastructure space that currently doesn’t exist in Rankin Inlet.”

Pursuing that would be a large undertaking when considering the additional staffing and infrastructure needed, he added.

“We’re stretched right now, trying to provide the services that we currently offer, due to worldwide human resource issues in health professionals,” said Main. “I can reassure the member that the Department of Health is working on this issue in terms of general anaesthetic services for children, and we are looking in every direction for ways of making improvements and we can offer more services to Nunavummiut.”

The dental issues extend beyond Rankin Inlet, though. Even the territory’s capital, Iqaluit, is seeing long backlogs for dental surgeries for children at Qikiqtani General Hospital.

“We too are concerned about this as a department,” said Main through interpretation. “The waiting list for children who are waiting for dental services that require general anesthetics is quite large. We are concerned. We are working with our partners to support children on a larger scale to deal with them.”

Sammurtok went on to ask how the Department of Health decides whether to send children south for dental surgery.

“The issue is that although we are looking at the best services available in Iqaluit, Ottawa, Churchill, Winnipeg or Edmonton, the waiting list is very long,” said Main through interpretation.

“We will be shipping patients out to as many of the facilities as possible in order to reduce the waiting lists. They are not numbers, they’re children. These are real children that need care, but their numbers are too numerous.”

The department uses every opportunity to get children the services they need, no matter where that may be, he said.

“Anywhere they’re available, we will send them there because it’s really an issue of concern for us,” said Main through interpretation.