Community leaders in Watson Lake, Yukon, are joining other municipalities in urging the territorial government to address the lack of a consistent emergency medical service.
Watson Lake Deputy Mayor Lauren Hanchar told CBC the situation is so dire that the local fire department often fills the service gaps when no paramedic, or ambulance, is available during an emergency.
"From the municipality's point of view ... The problem is [the Yukon government's] reliance on our volunteer firefighters to supplement their poor allocation of resources to EMS in Watson Lake," she said on Thursday.
Watson Lake's deputy mayor Lauren Hanchar, second from right, said the local fire department has been filling the gaps left from not having a consistent emergency medical service in the community. Left to right: Councillor Thomas Slager, Councillor Dale Burdes, Councillor Denina Paquette, Mayor Christopher Irvin, Hanchar and chief administrative officer Cam Lockwood. (The town of Watson Lake)
Dawson City's fire chief Mike Masserey called out the government earlier this week for using his department as a substitute ambulance when service is required after six p.m. and on weekends.
"Our fire guys aren't going to say no," Hanchar said.
"They're going to go on EMS calls because they're good people and if their assistance is required they're not going to leave our community members hanging. Ever."
Hanchar is calling the situation unfair, speaking of "burnout" among the first responders currently active in the community, adding that this isn't enticing for anyone who wants to volunteer in the future.
Hanchar says if the government can't handle offering the service then perhaps they should look for other options.
"Perhaps the private sector could do this better," she said.
'Tired of lip service'
Yukon Party MLA for Watson Lake Patti McLeod says she's also growing tired of seeing her community ask for help from the territorial government,
"I've raised issues around EMS in the legislature on a number of occasions," she said in a recent interview.
"Largely talking around the level of staffing and volunteers. The government has always assured us that ... staffing is better than ever and you know, volunteerism is great ... and they've got new programs to attract volunteers."
Both McLeod and Hanchar, however, unambiguously believe these new programs don't work.
"There are many times in Watson Lake where there is no coverage at all," McLeod said.
"There's no paid staff. There's no volunteers ... I hear that people have tried to get an ambulance for someone who was in medical distress, right now, and they can't get an ambulance. And they can't get the help they need to personally take that person to the hospital."
McLeod says asking residents, as well as the community's EMS staff, what improvement they'd like to see in services should be part of the solution.
"Let's find out what the people want," she said.
"It makes no sense for folks sitting in Whitehorse to try to decide how they're going to fix Watson Lake."
McLeod says the current system — flying paramedics from Whitehorse to communities — when local paramedics aren't available is "ridiculous" and often takes too long. She questions whether it's going to take the death of a patient waiting for services for the government to do anything.
"Is that where the death occurs?" she questioned.
"They won't even acknowledge there's a problem. The situation is frustrating to say the least."
'The people on the ground know the answers'
During an interview with CBC News, the leader of the Yukon NDP party, Kate White, echoed McLeod when she said the Yukon Government should speak with community members both in Watson Lake, and Dawson City.
"I really think it's going to be an important thing to have a conversation with people who were volunteers previously and aren't any longer," she said.
"Really the people on the ground are the ones that know the answers, and they probably have really good suggestions for solutions."
NDP Leader Kate White. (Julien Gignac/CBC)
White said that the territorial government has an obligation to serve the public. Plain and simple.
"When we talk about health there's an expectation that health services be available," she said.
"But when Yukon Government doesn't even want to make the statement that there is no ambulance service available. If you're in an emergency you're going to have to get yourself to the hospital. It puts the entire community at risk."
CBC requested an interview with the Yukon Government's department of Health and Social Services but nobody was immediately available for comment.