Whitehorse Daily Star

Image title

Photo by Whitehorse Star

Steve Geick

‘It’s very scary at WGH right now,’ employee says

Four members of the Whitehorse General Hospital’s nursing staff have resigned in one 12-hour period, citing “deplorable working conditions,” their unions say.

By Whitehorse Star on October 19, 2020

Four members of the Whitehorse General Hospital’s nursing staff have resigned in one 12-hour period, citing “deplorable working conditions,” their unions say.

“While damning, these resignations are merely symptoms of a system on the verge of collapse,” the unions said in a statement released late this morning.

Doctors, surgeons and hospital staff represented by the Yukon Employees’ Union (YEU)/Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) and the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada have been raising the alarm for years, the unions said, “and the situation is now critical.

“Chronic understaffing has exposed hospital workers to a constellation of challenges, including exposure to higher COVID-19 risks with fewer resources and an ever-increasing workload.”

Staffing vacancies have “skyrocketed,” the union said, with at least 42 vacant positions across all facilities and a minimum of 23 nursing positions unfilled.

The hospital staff members all quit early last week.

The Yukon Hospital Corporation’s “unhealthy dependence on imported agency nurses means Yukon workers must bear an extreme burden of risk,” the unions said.

“They serve alongside high-risk health care workers who have just flown into the territory, often from active COVID regions. Without any requirements to quarantine before entering our wards, these nurses pose a grave risk to the health of Yukoners and vulnerable front-line workers.”

The unions’ members in the territory’s three hospitals have seen their working conditions worsen year after year without relief, the statement said.

“During this global pandemic, consequences of the chronic understaffing could be catastrophic,” said Steve Geick, the longtime YEU/PSAC president.

“Yukoners should be able to rely on safe hospitals, and so should hospital workers on the front lines.”

The Yukon’s hospitals are “bleeding out” as staffing levels “reach critical lows,” the statement said.

Member responses to a recent union survey highlight the challenges workers face, the unions said, and illustrate the anxiety of many hospital staffers.

“Continually shifting work schedules due to ongoing, chronic understaffing is demoralizing for staff,” submitted one corporation employee.

“When you go to work, you should expect a full complement of staff, not fear the unknown staffing levels for your shift,” says another.

“The stress of the potential of working ‘short’ on a regular basis is extremely disturbing and is similar to vicarious trauma.”

“It’s very scary at WGH right now with the patient ratios and the lack of resources – it’s terrible. How can patients be cared for properly with fewer nurses, burnt-out staff?

“Something has to be done.”

Jack Bourassa, the PSAC’s regional executive vice-president for the North, said from Yellowknife, “Having to continually fight for what’s right and moral is very frustrating.”

The hospital corporation is an organization in need of urgent care, the union said in the statement.

“Without immediate intervention and a serious commitment to improving patient to staff ratios, we fear for the safety of hospital employees and the vulnerable patients they serve.”

A spokesperson for the hospital corporation told the Star early this afternoon that no comment on the resignations was available.

Comments (37)

Up 15 Down 1

Groucho d'North on Oct 22, 2020 at 5:07 pm

The issue of foreign professionals having their credentials recognized here in Canada is the domain of the Internal Trade Agreement. The provinces have been working for years to get a homogenous working agreement so a welder or a doctor can work in any province once they have passed the qualifying tests. I'm not sure but I believe the feds tossed a wrench into the works with their immigration policies over the past few years.

Up 43 Down 7

Groucho d'North on Oct 22, 2020 at 8:58 am

My advancing years are requiring I spend more time at the hospital for outpatient services and lab work. Despite what is being reported and said about the good people involved in this job action, I have found all of the nurses, lab techs and other care-givers to be polite, pleasant and focused on delivering quality care and comfort. My thanks to each of you & I hope these matters are dealt with soon and fairly. Please keep up your very good work!

Up 29 Down 11

Dentist on Oct 21, 2020 at 8:59 pm

Hey you whiners! I got a fine xray in there just last week. The woman who administered it was friendly and professional as were the the people at reception. Be thankful that you have free health care. I'm sure there are dozens of well qualified nurses in developing countries who would gladly take the places of those who quit. If you don't like it, you probably shouldn't be doing it.

Up 37 Down 75

Juniper Jackson on Oct 21, 2020 at 3:45 pm

I had a stroke. Didn't know it. But, I am alive today. That being said... just give them what they want, and when you have your stroke, your heart attack, your accident, your kid takes a head injury at soccer? Just be glad you did. The woman in the next bed? Couldn't hold her bowels, bladder, blood running out her nose.. yeah.. she's still alive too.. you think she's griping about the small stuff? I could not clean that up for love nor money..but those nurses did. They were there steady until she was under control.

All kinds of bellyaching going on.. thank God we still get an opinion, (though our right to voice it is disappearing fast.) because mine is.. if money will fix it.. throw money at them.. This government throws away money like day old fries.. throw enough money at them to do whatever it is they need to do..I need them to be there for me..and be happy to be there too.

Up 33 Down 5

stephen on Oct 21, 2020 at 1:16 pm

Hey Lost In the Yukon
I don't care if it was a century ago. We are talking about now and it's time to say enough is enough. This issue spans across Canada where Engineers, Doctors and Nurses block qualified people from being able to be hired unless they jump through so many hoops they put in place to block people. It's time the public said enough is enough and make the politicians listen.

If you can't get it done then get out of the way and let people who are willing to find solutions and put them in place do so.
All I hear from people is excuses and we can't because..... Time for those people to either be part of the solution or shut up.

Up 14 Down 29

Nathan Living on Oct 21, 2020 at 12:12 am

The union has done a great deal for nurses and hospital staff at WGH.
Years ago it seemed many nurses were casual and many felt they were exploited with limited opportunities.

And now there are 23 positions available in Whitehorse.
Please be clear on what the issues really are and how administration can deal with them on both a short and long term basis.

Up 24 Down 6

Lost In the Yukon on Oct 20, 2020 at 11:09 pm

Dearest Stephen ... this all goes back to the Ostashek government when planning for this hospital started. In order to get Doctor agreement on a poorly designed and undersized hospital the Yukon Party agreed to close the border to outside physicians - thus ensuring their lifestyle and income. The doctors became the gate keeps. This is a problem going back 25+ years

Up 29 Down 6

Lynx on Oct 20, 2020 at 9:33 pm

@My Opinion

Yes I agree. Though its the NDP really pulling the union's strings in the background. This is true historically and even more so now with 'protestor extradoinaire' Kate White as leader.

Up 17 Down 7

Unfeckingbelievable! on Oct 20, 2020 at 5:35 pm

Sean Bell - Yes, the Walmartification of our healthcare system, good idea. The toxic work environment is a failure of management to lead. Simply that. I hope people with your thinking leave... To be on an island with similar others to mitigate the spread of further toxins.

Up 84 Down 14

the problem on Oct 20, 2020 at 4:19 pm

I've dealt with YEU.
They have showed up at workplaces and get the most distraught workers to try and instigate problems.
they've used this tactic before.

Up 49 Down 11

Tony Maroney on Oct 20, 2020 at 3:45 pm

The Whitehorse Star comment section should be designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. I love you cranks! NEVER CHANGE

Up 68 Down 17

stephen on Oct 20, 2020 at 2:26 pm

First Doctors and Nurses should not be allowed to dictate who is hired that comes from outside the country. You are not allowed to cry foul that you are short staffed but when foreign Doctors and Nurses are hired (they can speak, read and write in English) you say no way. You can't have it both ways. Time to take the power away from Doctors and Nurses when it comes to hiring. If we are short then hire foreign Nurses and Doctors (Who can speak, read and write in English).

The other option is to have a plan in place to hire nurses and Doctors right out of school and have them sign a 10 year contract and agree to pay their school fees up to a certain amount.
People need to learn to stop complaining about something if you don't have alternatives you can put forward.

Up 31 Down 53

Yukon Sean on Oct 20, 2020 at 12:13 pm

Just be thankful you aren't in Alberta where the UCP government is actively picking "fights" with the doctors and nurses during a global pandemic. Doctors are leaving the province as we speak. Last week they announced 11,000 people will be laid off. This is not a local Whitehorse or Yukon issue, but a global issue.

Up 104 Down 4

Thomas Brewer on Oct 20, 2020 at 11:18 am

YHC has unwieldy, complacent, weak top heavy management that kowtows to the physicians and are complicit with the abuse of nursing staff both in the hospitals and the community health centres (also facing huge staffing shortages and reliance on agency nurses).

It's past time to clean house.

Up 43 Down 18

Dawn on Oct 20, 2020 at 11:14 am

The government should put on a program for Canadians to take nursing programs and for it to be funded. Some people might not be able to afford it and want it. I'm hearing he's getting serbians to get free medical school. People who can't speak our language. Why not a program for Canadians?

Up 104 Down 8

Max Mack on Oct 20, 2020 at 9:29 am

So, the complaint is that the nurses are chronically understaffed. But, then the union complains about the use of "imported agency" nurses - which is obviously an attempt to fill the void. You can't have your cake and eat it, too.

WGH is having the same problem as every hospital across the country: nursing shortages. Perhaps the union should step up with some solid proposals as to how WGH and GY can staff up.

Up 117 Down 25

My opinion on Oct 20, 2020 at 9:27 am

The only scary thing is Steve Geick. I sometimes wonder if he goes around and stirs the pot.

Up 67 Down 4

Jake The Bosun on Oct 20, 2020 at 8:19 am

The following conversation might have been recorded at a meeting to deal with this;

a. "We have a problem, there are not enough nurses and doctors, and what we had are quitting."
M." I thought closing the private doctors offices would fix that?"
b. "...we need to hire a consultant to look at this."
c. "....and let's have a big committee struck to brainstorm it.."
d. " I'm overworked and so is my staff, let me hire two admin clerks and a policy analyst to free up my people to take part."
e. "We'll need someone to do 'Communications' on this too!"
M. "I'm busy next week, it will have to be December"
f. "I'm starting paternity leave December so my replacement will take my spot."
d. "So can I start a staffing action to make this a priority."
M. "You just hired one last week, how about getting the nurses to do their own clerical work to free your people up?"
all : "Agreed !"

(Access to Information wasn't involved here.)

Up 57 Down 9

Matthew on Oct 20, 2020 at 5:59 am

Well this is good news all around.. why hasn't this been addressed sooner? I mean it's not like WGH is so busy people are exhausted.. need to look higher up and fire some people which make working there hard.. we NEED nurses and Doctors ASAP in town. But general consensus leads us to realize there is a poison there right now.. FIX IT Dr.Smart.

Up 86 Down 3

Jim on Oct 20, 2020 at 5:55 am

Honestly these are no different than any other hospital in Canada. The staffing model in most provinces are even worse, as this hospital only serves the population of a small town anywhere else. The acuity at this hospital is far less as well, as the services offered are minimal. Instead of the government chucking cash around, how about focusing some money on efficiency processes, to maximize staff success and manage work loads appropriately. This is how every other hospital survives outside of Yukon. This is a poorly run hospital....but the only one around. When you have a monopoly anything goes I suppose, just ask Northwestel.

Up 27 Down 12

Whilhem Marcus 3rd on Oct 20, 2020 at 4:34 am

The last caterwauling that we had from hospital staff was when the intrepid Head Surgeon had to take to the streets begging for beds. At that time it was found that Dougie and the boys were pork barreling the situation by hiring policy analysts instead. I don't know about that imbalance at present.
I do know that if you rub some nurses the wrong way you can end up with an ice fishing auger hole in your arm instead of the little red blip for half an hour when receiving blood testing. I forgot my blood work papers at my doctors office and they were faxing them over but the faxes didn't work. She may have felt I was being a 'prima donna' when all it was was an innocent forget.
I find it best to stay out of labor disputes but our hospital is critical and the smoother it functions the better for all of us. Do we still train up 'candy stripers' and if not why not?

Up 106 Down 26

jack on Oct 19, 2020 at 11:08 pm

Judging from how many nursing staff have contracted Covid so far (zero), I'd say the risk seems very low.

Up 97 Down 17

Salt on Oct 19, 2020 at 11:04 pm

Government+Unions=Disaster, no surprise there. TMYK has a point, some of the union staff does game the system to maximize OT, which enables gov mismanagement.

Up 106 Down 6

Liza Mannen on Oct 19, 2020 at 10:24 pm

@TMYK this has been a problem for about the last 4 years. Yes there is some changes that had to be done but having a dictator, tyrant administration is not condusive to any workplace. I am so glad I got out of there when I did. My stress level was making me physically sick and admitted to the hospital for it. Then challenged on my sick time. Go figure...... Time for the Yukon Government to take over the hospital and become a Health Authority not a corporation so they can do with the money what they want.

Up 111 Down 18

comen sense on Oct 19, 2020 at 9:43 pm

"A system on the verge of collapse" -really? There have been nooo covid cases at the hospital so why are they any busier and they have a brand new hospital facility. This Steve Geick the union representative for the Yukon only stirs the pot -remember the flight attendants with Air North, how that turned out.

Up 96 Down 22

joe on Oct 19, 2020 at 8:50 pm

Typical union rhetoric. Blame others instead of looking for solutions.

Up 84 Down 11

Martin on Oct 19, 2020 at 7:54 pm

Pauline Frost is doing it again. First was the teachers left to their own, now "she didn't know" about WGH, according to CBC Radio.

Up 45 Down 22

Mike on Oct 19, 2020 at 6:45 pm

I hate to say it but the WGH is and has been going downward for sometime. The mood of the nurses and the lack of respect they show for the doctors as well as fear of the covid19 and the fact they say there's 2 confirmed cases which means there's 20. This government hasn't done anything to provide adequate safety measures for patients or staff and when this virus invades our territory the government will hide from the public because it is them who are responsible for letting the borders stay open and let people fly in from everywhere without quarantine.

Up 98 Down 7

Lost In the Yukon on Oct 19, 2020 at 6:32 pm

... just another crisis of leadership brought to you by the Minister of Health and Social Services and her invisible Deputy Minister.

Up 17 Down 59

A.Riediger on Oct 19, 2020 at 5:46 pm

Nice to hide behind your initials TMYK.

Up 50 Down 33

Unfeckingbelievable! on Oct 19, 2020 at 5:25 pm

Dear Politico - Victim Blaming is a mandatory management course for YG Managers, Directors, ADMs and DMs.

Upper management should be made to perform a walk of shame, followed by their HR toadies, for the poor leadership that they have committed on Yukonners. It is a shame that hangs around all of our necks.

TMYK - The Manager Yukonners Know. Your post is an absolute absurdity as is the current government. This Liberal government has made an absolute shambles out of the Yukon and it continues to achieve new levels of ever increasing absurdities. You and them have lost all perspective and it would be my hope that you are part of the walk of shame.

The autocracy must fall before it is too late. Your ideas disgust me and they should disgust every decently minded Yukonner.

Up 30 Down 46

TheHammer on Oct 19, 2020 at 5:09 pm

The situation seems to contradict Dr. Hanley's statements of 'low risk'.

Up 47 Down 35

Sean on Oct 19, 2020 at 4:54 pm

Wow! This is very scary for the Yukon population that relies on the services the hospital provides every day!!
TMYK, it speaks to someone who hides behind an anonymous name. I question your knowledge and claim about, "they treat sick days like vacation days". If that were the case, why would 4 nurses in less than 12 hours have resigned because of unsafe, understaffed working conditions?!
Also, get your facts straight. It is run by Yukon Hospital Corporation, not the Government.

Up 93 Down 25

Wilf Carter on Oct 19, 2020 at 4:50 pm

Folks Union has done nothing for nurses or any other Union members other than collect their Union dues and pay themselves nice salaries.

Up 109 Down 184

Politico on Oct 19, 2020 at 4:21 pm

@ TMYK WOW!, talk about blaming the victim. Complain about working conditions imposed by management and get told it's all your fault. No wonder they're quitting.

Up 62 Down 165

Queens Printers to Nurses! on Oct 19, 2020 at 3:46 pm

Way to go!

Up 252 Down 135

TMYK on Oct 19, 2020 at 3:26 pm

The constantly shifting work schedules and staffing issues are for the most part a result of the staff themselves. They treat sick days like vacation days and have mastered manipulating the system to maximize overtime hours. Anytime management makes any attempt to fix these issues they are met with threats from the Union and staff. This has lead to the costly practice of relying on travel nurses to fill the gaps WGH frontline staff created out of their own greed. I rarely defend government management but this toxic culture is one of the nurses own creation.

Add your comments or reply via Twitter @whitehorsestar

In order to encourage thoughtful and responsible discussion, website comments will not be visible until a moderator approves them. Please add comments judiciously and refrain from maligning any individual or institution. Read about our user comment and privacy policies.

Your name and email address are required before your comment is posted. Otherwise, your comment will not be posted.