• Patti Pontoon

Yukon CMOH shortage is damaging public health

WHITEHORSE - Instability, staff shortage impacting territory's public health services

The Yukon MP's constituency offices on Second Avenue, Whitehorse where MP Hanley is supposed to be available to constituents (Image: Whitewash News)


The Yukon government announced on July 21 it was dropping all of the COVID-19 public health restrictions that had up until that point been keeping Yukoners safe.


The announcement meant that masks were no longer required, bars and restaurants could open with full capacity and schools would reopen for the new term with hardly any restrictions in place.


From the time the Yukon's schools reopened in September, however, stories started to surface about how COVID-19 infections amongst schoolchildren were spiking.


Infections also started to spread via bars, restaurants, exercise classes, workplaces and basically anywhere people were gathering.


It would be November 5 before the government would admit that there was a major problem when it conceded during a press briefing that there was "widespread community transmission" of COVID-19 in the Yukon.


From there, things went into a quick downward spiral.


State of emergency


On November 8, the Yukon government declared a state of emergency and the introduction of new health regulations.


That same day, the federal government announced that the Yukon had the highest rate of positive COVID-19 tests per capita in the country, beating the next worst jurisdiction NWT by a ratio of more than 2:1.


On November 12 the government announced its 11th Covid-19 related death since the start of the pandemic.


Six days later, on November 18, the government announced the territory's twelfth Covid-19 related death and yet another increase in the number of positive test cases.


Hanley's election bid


The fuse for the Yukon's current state of emergency was lit months earlier by a senior public health official with political ambitions.


When the Liberal government announced on July 21 that it was dropping most of its COVID-19 public health measures, it said that the decision was based on recommendations made by the Yukon's then Chief Medical Office of Health (CMOH) Dr. Brendan Hanley.


The announcement took many by surprise because the timing coincided with the rapid spread of the much more dangerous and transmissible Delta variant.


Three weeks later on August 10, 2021, Hanley announced that he was running for the Liberals in the upcoming federal election.


Hanley's election announcement came just four days after he recommended schools reopen with minimal protective measures for children and staff, and just six days after his recommendation to drop most public health measures came into effect.


The recommendations effectively amounted to pre-election promises designed to garner votes because they gave Yukoners the impression that Hanley had steered the territory out of the woods.


The rate of known active cases in Canada as of November 12, 2021. (Image: Public Health Agency of Canada)


Campaign cover up


As Hanley campaigned throughout September, news outlets started to report on how the Yukon's school system was experiencing widespread outbreaks of COVID-19.


The territory's Education minister Jeanie McLean and acting CMOH Dr. Catherine Elliott tried to cover up the seriousness of the situation at every opportunity.


In a news release on September 20, Elliott said "we are well prepared for this outbreak and our schools remain safe places for our children."


Government officials had to pretend that everything was OK because the alternative was to admit that they had allowed Hanley to leave his CMOH post just as the Delta variant was taking root in the territory.


Election deal


Health minister Tracy-Anne McPhee and Health and Social Services deputy minister Stephen Samis had struck a deal with Hanley that the government would not replace him while he campaigned and that he could return to the role of CMOH if he lost the election.


Up until Hanley's election deal with the government, the Yukon had one full-time CMOH and one full-time deputy CMOH. When Hanley ran for election, Elliott was promoted from 'deputy' to 'acting' CMOH.


Nobody was brought in to fill the deputy role because the government wanted Elliott to return to that role if Hanley lost the election.


Through its deal with Hanley, the government had put the health and wellbeing of all Yukoners at greater risk by willfully reducing the number of working CMOHs in the territory from two to just one.


Meanwhile on the campaign trail


While the government was working hard to cover up the seriousness of COVID-19 transmission in the territory, Hanley was photographed on the campaign trail interacting with people without practicing social distancing or mask-wearing.


On the eve of his election win on September 24, he was seen mingling in large groups and hugging people with no masks involved.


To many Yukoners looking on, it seemed that Hanley was believing his own pre-election promise that COVID-19 was not a threat to the territory.


For others, Hanley's conduct confirmed their views that public health measures are a hoax and that the government cannot be trusted.


On October 30, as COVID-19 infections were rapidly spiking in Whitehorse, Hanley was seen interacting indoors with workers in the same building as his constituency office in downtown Whitehorse, again without any social distancing or mask-wearing.


MP Hanley during a public appearance in Whitehorse on October 30 as COVID-19 cases in that city are spiking. As CMOH, Hanley lit the fuse of the Yukon's current COVID-19 outbreak and as MP, he is acting as if public health measures are a hoax (Image: MP Hanley/Facebook)


Where's Hanley?


Hanley's pre-election promises regarding public health may have bought him votes but they also kick-started the giant mess that the territory's healthcare system, businesses, First Nations, schools, parents, workers and all Yukoners are now having to cope with.


At the time of his election win, he said he would be taking a couple of weeks to do an "onboarding program" for people who had never been MPs before. He also said he would be hiring staff for his Whitehorse office.


It's been eight weeks and Hanley is still unavailable to his constituents and he still hasn't hired a full staff for his Whitehorse constituency office. He didn't even advertise for staff until October 26, according to the jobs listing site www.Yuwin.ca


The October 30 public appearance by Hanley in Whitehorse constitutes the only public appearance he has made in the Yukon since becoming MP.


Even on Twitter, where a few lines take a few minutes to publish, he has only Tweeted four times since the election; on November 8, 11, 17 and 23.


Hanley, who set an all time Canadian record for the highest paid CMO ever, is now on an annual salary of $185,800 with all expenses and staff paid.


Unlike his former CMOH contractor gig, he will receive a very generous MP pension when he retires.


Hanley may view his MP salary as a financial hit but regardless, Yukoners expect their MP to be available to them.

Despite being elected over eight weeks ago, a blank space occupies the location for MP Hanley's constituency office sign in downtown Whitehorse on November 23 (Image: Whitewash News)


CMOH staff shortage


Hanley's absence from his MP role has led to speculation that he is still involved behind the scenes in the Yukon's public health recommendations.


This speculation has been further fuelled by the fact that since August, the Yukon has had just one full-time CMOH managing responsibilities that have always required two CMOHs.


Not only is the Yukon down by one full-time CMOH since August, but Elliott's contract, worth $590,961.56 a year, has not been officially renewed.


It was due to renew on September 30 but according to the Yukon government's Contract Registry website, nothing has been put in place.


This means that the Yukon has no confirmed full-time CMOH which points to serious instability in the CMOH office.


Even if Hanley is helping out behind the scenes, the territory is still without a second full time CMOH which means that office is dangerously understaffed.


Time off at worst time


On November 12, the government announced that Elliott was taking two weeks off work at a critical juncture in the territory's COVID-19 response.


Between November 12 and 26, at the peak of the recent outbreak, the Yukon would have a new and temporary CMOH in the form of Dr. André Corriveau.


Corriveau is a former Northwest Territories CMOH who describes himself on his Linkedin page as "happily retired but willing to help" and "self-employed.


Corriveau may have experience as a CMOH in another jurisdiction but he has never worked for the Yukon government.


As well as having to learn the ropes, Corriveau was asked by the government to operate as the Yukon's sole CMOH for two weeks during which time he was expected to guide the territory's public health services and somehow manage a healthcare system at breaking point.


According to the Contract Registry website, Corriveau is being paid $44,382.80 for a contract that started on November 7 and will end on December 3. The total payment translates to an earning rate of $11,095.70 per week.

The Yukon government is paying temporary CMOH Dr. André Corriveau $11,095.70 per week to manage the most challenging public health crisis to ever face the territory (Image: Linkedin)


Massive pressure


Elliott's decision to take a two-week break from the role of CMOH at the worst possible time, coupled with the fact that she hasn't renewed her contract, suggests that she may already be checked out of her job.


From the onset of the current COVID-19 outbreak, Yukon premier Sandy Silver and a number of his cabinet colleagues have consistently implied that Elliott is to blame for the recent outbreak on the basis that the government has been religiously following her recommendations.


This blame-game played by Liberal MLAs has heaped massive pressure on Elliott who already has an impossible volume of tasks to manage as she has been been working for fourteen week without the support of a second full-time CMOH.


Act of hubris


The role of the CMOH is not limited to making COVID-19 recommendations to the government.


The CMOH is responsible for overseeing a broad range of public health services ranging from the recruitment of healthcare workers to the provision of health services in communities, disease control, family doctors, addiction services and a lot more.


All aspects of public health in the Yukon are suffering as a result of how the government's decision-making led to an under-staffed and unstable CMOH office.


If the government had not agreed to keep Hanley's seat warm for him pending the outcome of his federal election bid, the Yukon would likely have a new full-time CMO by now.


Instead, in an act of pure hubris, the government put political ambition above the interests of public health.


 

Editor's Note: This article was published in the 'Opinion' section of our website. Facts referred to in the opinion piece are supported by the links provided within the article. The Whitewash News is looking for tip-offs and story ideas related to anything that may be of interest to the Yukon public. As long as we can verify a tip-off, we can run with it! Please contact us if you have anything to share.

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