Whitehorse Daily Star

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Patti McLeod

Government pressed on hospital beds shortage

Based on comments from its Health and Social Services minister,

By Taylor Blewett on November 9, 2017

Based on comments from its Health and Social Services minister, the Yukon government appears to be looking at long-term solutions to a long-standing problem, with financial constraints tying its hands in the short term.

Much has been made recently in the media and the legislature of bed pressures at Whitehorse General Hospital.

Brian Gillen, the chair of the Yukon Hospital Corp. (YHC), told the house in October that beds at Whitehorse General are filled to 96 per cent capacity, on average.

The ideal level of bed occupancy is 75 per cent.

“We are experiencing limited bed availability because, in many cases, some of our admitted patients out of Whitehorse General no longer require hospital care, but are awaiting a spot in another level or type of care, such as long-term care,” Gillen explained in the legislature Oct. 24.

The new president of the Yukon Medical Association (YMA) also commented on the issue last weekend.

After last Friday’s YMA annual general meeting, Alex Poole stated that the 150 beds slated to open at the Whistle Bed Continuing Care facility won’t entirely solve the problem of long-term care demand exceeding supply in the territory, leaving people in hospital beds far longer than they should be there.

In the legislature Monday, Patti McLeod, the Yukon Party health and social services critic, pressed minister Pauline Frost about any “concrete plan” she has to address the issue.

“We certainly acknowledge that pressures at the hospital and bed shortages are not new,” Frost replied.

She said the government and the YHC will continue the practice of moving patients to community hospitals where more beds are available.

Jason Bilsky, the CEO of the YHC, testified in the legislature Oct. 24 that on average, between two and four patients per month had been transferred from Whitehorse General to Dawson City and Watson Lake over the past four months.

Average length of stay

The average length of stay in the communities for these patients was between three and six weeks.

The practice has “escalated” in recent months, Bilsky said.

Yukoner Dorothy Sorensen wrote a letter to the Star, published Wednesday, sharing her experience as a patient at Whitehorse General.

One morning late this past summer, Sorensen was advised by a nurse that the following day, she was to be transferred to the Dawson City hospital for a three-week stay.

“I have no friends and support in Dawson City,” she wrote.

“How does rotating vulnerable elders in and out of three hospitals for three weeks at a time, never mind the financial cost of medivacs, make sense?”

After contacting her MLA, Sorensen has since been advised that she will not likely be moved.

During YHC officials’ October appearance in the house, Bilsky noted that between 30 and 40 per cent of beds in Whitehorse General are occupied by those who no longer require acute hospital care.

Typically, said Bilsky, these patients are waiting for a long-term care bed or transfer to a facility elsewhere.

As for what the Yukon government is doing to free up those beds aside from supporting hospital transfers, Frost has cited models like the Yukon Mental Wellness Strategy, Aging in Place, and collaborative care that can provide “opportunities to try to eliminate the health pressures in the Yukon.”

She also spoke Wednesday to retrofitting homes, allowing patients to return and receive care in that environment.

However, she has not provided the number of continuing care beds her government will make available in the next two years, nor the amount of money they will be making available for home care, despite repeated questioning.

“We took on the Whistle Bend facility as an expenditure,” she noted in the house Monday.

Not budgeted under the previous Yukon Party government, operations and maintenance costs for the facility – when fully operational in 2020 – will be $36 million per year, Premier Sandy Silver told MLAs last week.

“So how do you balance that and still try to finance necessary health costs?” Frost asked. “It’s a complicated process.”

Spent more than $770,000

Last year, she said the government spent more than $770,000 on home and alternative care in the territory.

“We are looking at our partnerships,” she said Tuesday.

“We are looking at working with the hospital corporation. We are working with Health and Social Services. We are working with non-profit organizations. We care about what is happening in Yukon.

“We care about Yukon people and we care about our patients,” the minister added.

“We are taking the necessary supports and the necessary cues from our partners. We are working toward addressing the long-term needs of Yukoners.”

Kate White, the NDP health and social services critic, told the Star this morning there are more timely and appropriate solutions to the hospital bed shortage than what the government has said it’s doing.

“Waiting for Whistle Bend is not an adequate answer because that means that they are willing to continue to transfer seniors and elders out of Whitehorse into communities for at least the next year to 18 months,” White said.

“And is that acceptable? No.”

She suggested the government could look at borrowing money, adding 10 beds in space above the Whitehorse hospital emergency room that isn’t being utilized, and dedicating more resources at the adjacent Thomson Centre to continuing care, rather than office space.

White is hoping to see the government cease what she said is a repeated pattern of blaming the previous government for the financial situation they’ve been left in, and offering “platitudes” in response to real issues.

“Move on. What I’m looking for is solutions, actual solutions.”

McLeod has led opposition questioning of the government about this problem in the legislature over the past week.

“We haven’t been getting any answers.... We’re frustrated,” she said.

“This government has been in place for a year. They’ve had, I think, ample opportunity to dig into this situation.”

Comments (11)

Up 1 Down 0

Hannimal on Nov 15, 2017 at 3:31 pm

Yukon Party is the worst and most corrupt Government Party ever voted in the Yukon. First off, they put their "good old boys" in positions they were not qualified for. They should be held accountable for making so many poor decisions. Why would anyone who has at least one brain cell, build hospitals in Dawson and Watson Lake? They should have built smaller clinics in those locations and built 1 more hospital in Whitehorse and not in Riverdale. At least I can say that I never voted for the Yukon Party...and never will.

Up 9 Down 8

Yukoner31 on Nov 13, 2017 at 3:36 pm

@truth seeker - You must be a card carrying conservative to suggest healthcare privatization as the answer. Conservative parties across Canada will slowly but surely privatize our healthcare systems if given the chance.

There is only one 1st world country in the world with a privatized health care system, the U.S., and we all know how that works for the majority of its citizens. It's like playing Russian Roulette.

Up 18 Down 1

drum on Nov 12, 2017 at 8:20 pm

Why did Yukoners just spend Millions to expand the hospital and it is too small!!!!

Up 16 Down 6

Just Say'in on Nov 12, 2017 at 2:52 pm

Shouldn't have spent all our money building Hospitals in Dawson and Watson. Even the locals want to go to Whitehorse, let alone the Whse. folks not wanting to go there. But the fact remains we built these facilities so we should staff them and use them.

Up 25 Down 4

pat the senior on Nov 11, 2017 at 6:18 pm

The hospital is an acute care facility. Why is it too small for our acute care needs? Why are there no long term facilities with available spaces? Why is home care not offering more support to keep people in their homes? Why has no one noticed that the demographics of the Yukon have changed over the last few decades? This overcrowding at WGH with elders waiting for long term spaces has been around for at least ten years or more. Didn't anyone plan ahead? Why is the hospital not asking government to provide more long term beds? Why is government happy to just say that Whistle Bend will be the answer? why is government and the hospital quite content to have these vulnerable elders shipped around the territory to solve these poorly planned space issues? Is that actually considered good care by those in the hospital? Why should these elders pay the price for a poorly planned and managed system? Perhaps the time has come for the hospital, homecare and long term care to be all under one management system so that things can flow more smoothly. A regional authority perhaps?
And one more question, if an elder does not agree to be shipped away for efficiency sake, what will the powers that be do, put them out on the street? How many families and elders are too scared to speak out about their traumatic experiences? Yukoners need more spaces with appropriate care, both in rural and urban Yukon. Lets get creative and find some better solutions, there are solutions.

Up 14 Down 11

warlord on Nov 10, 2017 at 8:14 pm

Doctors try to save money for pharma-care by short changing seniors on diagnostic imagery, hospitalization, colonoscopies, CT scans, spectroscopy etc. Their diagnostic assessments are based on patients conversations and getting you out of the clinic as fast as possible.

Up 16 Down 12

truth seaker on Nov 10, 2017 at 3:24 pm

Privatization is the answer here..

Competing care/medical providers would quickly end inefficiencies that ultimately are the business model of the current overly-socialized system. There is no real incentive to provide effective efficient care. Countless examples around the world of how effectively healthcare services can be delivered at a fraction of the cost that 'government' healthcare can be.

Any time 'government' gets involved or takes over in any endeavor you can bet money it will end up a ponzi scheme that siphons wealth from the people and redistributes to hypocrites that ruin everything ruled only by their greed. Monopolistic organizations breed corruption by design.

Up 37 Down 6

BnR on Nov 10, 2017 at 6:48 am

“This government has been in place for a year. They’ve had, I think, ample opportunity to dig into this situation.”
Give us a break. The Libs (who I'm not a fan of) have been in a year, the YP had THIRTEEN years!

Up 24 Down 10

Ken M. on Nov 10, 2017 at 12:15 am

So this is a new problem for Mla McLeod. That's interesting.
The NDP as usual demand solutions but offer none with none likely coming.
Well answered Health Minister Frost, it looks to me like your doing your very best with what you have and were left with (reality NDP). Everyone can't have a penthouse hospital room at the location of their choosing.

Up 28 Down 6

north_of_60 on Nov 9, 2017 at 4:31 pm

Bilsky noted that between 30 and 40 per cent of beds in Whitehorse General are occupied by those who no longer require acute hospital care. Typically, said Bilsky, these patients are waiting for a long-term care bed or transfer to a facility elsewhere.

Then send "these patients" to Dawson or Watson; if they don't like that then they can go home or seek private care. People who require acute care should have the highest priority for available beds. Patients having their MLA meddle in hospital decisions isn't an acceptable way to run the service.

The ceiling of the Thompson Centre was never designed for a hospital bed facility in this climate. That's why the insulation got wet, moldy, and had to be replaced. It's only adequate for low occupancy, business hours space not for hospital beds. There are however many functions in the main building that could be moved to the Thompson Centre and those spaces then used for beds.

For years the Hospital Corp has been hobbled by incompetent management, and those problems are finally catching up with reality.

Up 21 Down 14

Watson Laker on Nov 9, 2017 at 4:24 pm

I feel bad that people get sent away from family and their support system when medical travel is required, that being said why are Whitehorse patients seen as more important than say those from Watson or Dawson. We are required to travel to Whitehorse for everything, a hospital bed after a medivac, two weeks waiting to give birth, a MRI or Cat scan... the list goes on. Why do we need to go to Whitehorse to access needs that should be available in our community. Stop whining about needing a bed at least you have proper medical staff and equipment. A bed is the least of our worries in the communities.

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