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Yukon psychiatrist says contract dispute with gov't resolved, clinic to stay open

Dr. Leo Elwell, a psychiatrist in Whitehorse, said Wednesday he was 'quite optimistic' about a proposed new contract with the Yukon government. Last fall, Elwell said he'd have to close his clinic in March if they couldn't negotiate a new deal.   (Elyn Jones/CBC - image credit)
Dr. Leo Elwell, a psychiatrist in Whitehorse, said Wednesday he was 'quite optimistic' about a proposed new contract with the Yukon government. Last fall, Elwell said he'd have to close his clinic in March if they couldn't negotiate a new deal. (Elyn Jones/CBC - image credit)

A Yukon psychiatrist who was locked in a contract dispute with the Yukon government and threatened to close his Whitehorse clinic now says his clinic will stay open.

In November, Dr. Leo Elwell said his Soulshine Health Clinic would close at the end of March. He blamed the territorial government for treating him unfairly and said he felt "backed into a corner."

"We've got some good news," Elwell told CBC News on Wednesday.

"The Yukon government presented a contract to us late last week and we're in the active process of reviewing it with them right now. We're quite optimistic that it will be signed imminently."

Elwell wouldn't provide any details about the proposed contract.

Elwell describes Soulshine Health as a "low-barrier kind of clinic" that provides specialized psychiatric care, including addictions treatment, to people who do not have a family doctor. Many of his patients are referred to him by psychologists or addictions counsellors. He's been working in Yukon for a decade, he says.

Elwell says he couldn't stay in business under the fee-for-service agreement he had with the government, and instead wanted to work under contract.

"The fee-for-service billings winds up being, how should I put it? It's how a lot of doctors operate, but it is not a model that's sustainable for psychiatry in this territory," said Elwell.

He says he has close to 300 patients in the Yukon.

Syrena Oswald is one of those patients and she helped lobby the government to keep the clinic open. Oswald says there should have been a new contract with the clinic a long time ago.

"This is a huge relief, and I would just like to hear from the government — they need to do the right thing and apologize and also take ownership," said Oswald.

"Explain why this happened, because they put a lot of people at risk during this whole thing and it was not needed," she added.

Oswald says it's important to retain professionals who want to live and work in the Yukon.

Asked about the proposed deal with Elwell, a Yukon government spokesperson said in an email to CBC News on Wednesday that "we are not in a position to speak to this."