Whitehorse Daily Star

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Steve Geick and Yukon Party leader Currie Dixon

Poor hospital working conditions are unprecedented, union says

Whitehorse General Hospital staff are experiencing poor working conditions that are unprecedented, according to the president of the Yukon Employees’ Union (YEU).

By Gabrielle Plonka on October 20, 2020

Whitehorse General Hospital staff are experiencing poor working conditions that are unprecedented, according to the president of the Yukon Employees’ Union (YEU).

“It’s not a good situation; it’s the worst I’ve seen in over 20 years of being here, so it’s very concerning,” Steve Geick told the Star Monday.

“As a union, we go to bat for our members, but my concern is that this is potentially affecting the health of all Yukoners.”

Last week, the union said Monday, four nurses resigned in one 12-hour period, citing chronic understaffing leading to stressful shifts and unmanageable workloads.

The Whitehorse General Hospital is managed by the Yukon Hospital Corp., an agency that operates with funding from the territorial government. It’s disputing the union’s version of events.

Geick told the Star the union has been fighting the hospital corporation over workload and staffing for at least six years, through the last two rounds of negotiations.

“We can talk about workload as long as it doesn’t involve hiring more staff,” Geick said.

“They say they don’t have the money to do it.”

In most hospitals across the country, nurses are tasked with caring for four to six patients per shift. In Whitehorse, nurses treat up to eight patients per shift.

“If you have eight patients to look after and one of them is in some sort of condition that requires vital signs to be done every 15 minutes, you’ve got to do your normal patient load and be constantly changing your PPE,” Geick said.

The heavy workload puts immense pressure on health care staff, Geick said.

“We’ve been very lucky up here with COVID, but if there was ever an outbreak here, right now, I don’t know what would happen.”

Geick said that hospital staff have been afraid to file incident reports on workload or report those concerns to their manager.

“What’s happening now is that if you complain about your workload, you get a letter of expectation saying, ‘Here’s some work you need to do on time management,’” Geick said.

NDP MLA Liz Hanson questioned the government on the union’s statements in the legislature on Monday.

Currie Dixon, the leader of the Yukon Party, told reporters Monday the issue lies in lack of funding to the hospital corporation.

“Having the limited resources that they do forces them to make very challenging decisions,” Dixon said.

“Our biggest concern is that this is a systemic problem that begins with the underfunding of the hospital corp.”

Kate White, the leader of the NDP, said she thinks the mass quit at the hospital was “a long time coming” after increased staffing cuts in recent history.

“It just means people are overworked, they’re exhausted, they’re stressed out, they’re anxious,” White said.

The hospital has recently seen a change to the staffing model that sees more health care assistants on staff under the supervision of nurses, White explained.

“It does cost less, but I think in the ideal world, you would have conversations with the professionals,” White said.

“They would say that adding the assistants would be helpful, but not when taking away a nursing position.”

White called the jump in patients per nurse “very frightening” and likely leads to nurses feeling they’re unable to provide a high level of care to each patient.

“That’s got to be heart-wrenching,” White said.

Premier Sandy Silver said Monday that issues at the hospital have likely been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We know that we have an awful lot of support staff, professionals that have gone on to different substantives to help us in the pandemic,” Silver said.

“It’s a stressful time, it really is.”

Silver denied that the hospital corporation is underfunded, and said funds were allocated accordingly after corporation staff appeared as witnesses in the legislative assembly.

“Every organization would always love to have more money, but they are well within the means,” Silver said.

The corporation, meanwhile, issued a release today denying that the four hospital staffers quit in one day.

“The facts and figures they offered are misleading and only tell part of the story,” the release stated.

“Nothing the union leadership offered in their statement reflects the complexities of health care recruitment or any basic understanding of staffing a hospital – especially during a pandemic.”

The corporation said the Yukon’s hospitals experience ongoing recruiting challenges that are par for the course in the North.

Those challenges are paired with the need for more staffing during COVID-19, due in part to the increased number of staff absences due to illness.

The corporation notes that it hired 77 people this year, and 15 of those were added to the Whitehorse hospital nursing team this month.

“YEU has not engaged us on an ongoing basis to work collaboratively on any of the issues they raised in their statement,” the corporation said.

“YEU’s timing, and the public manner in which they chose to proceed, seems odd and highly cynical given we are about to resume collective bargaining in a couple days.”

Comments (9)

Up 3 Down 13

Sheepchaser on Oct 25, 2020 at 3:44 am

Well, there’s a generation of leadership all across this territory that refuses to move on despite the wick having burned all the way down a decade ago. No one really wants to work for the boomers or the echoes. It’s awful. Evidence-based methods fly right over their heads and all they offer in return is the idiocy of ‘well this is the way we’ve always done it, so get back to work’. You can be standing there with the evidence in your hand and they’ll deny it like climate change. Please just retire already so we can move on from the Delusional Era.

Up 5 Down 27

Woodcutter on Oct 21, 2020 at 7:50 pm

@unfeckable good boy, your learning. Ain't you the guy that suggested armed thugs loosely described as militia troll the streets? Perhaps a few of your goose stepping buddies could go in there and deliver your special form of justice?

Up 13 Down 5

Nathan Living on Oct 21, 2020 at 6:16 pm

There is a problem, so fix it so we all can move on.

Up 25 Down 8

My Opinion on Oct 21, 2020 at 2:37 pm

Most of the staffing problem for Nurses and Doctors is this.

A large portion of Nurses work half time. 2-12 hr shifts per week. 4-12's is too hard, 5 days off is much nicer. You can always pick up a shift here and there when you do feel like it. Especially for Nurses with children. Other priorities.

As for Doctors working at the Hospital. They already have a full time job at a clinic on top of the time they spend at the Hospital. How did everyone think this would work out. People will only work as hard as "They Want".

Up 30 Down 5

Community Gal on Oct 21, 2020 at 8:55 am

Our population has increased by about 25% in the past 15 years yet the number of doctors and nurses has not increased proportionally. We have at least that many additional bureaucrats but that does not translate to more accessible health care, only more forms and delays.
I waited over two years in Whitehorse to get a family doctor. I visited clinics, put my name on every list, phoned every number the government issued and still no doctor. Finally I moved out to a rural community and got a great doctor.
I needed a doctor for an escalating medical condition. An x-ray was ordered and 3 months later I had heard nothing. Finally I phoned the x-ray place and learned that, due to COVID, they were only doing emergency x-rays! My doctor changed my request to urgent and I got an x-ray. Several conditions present so my doctor ordered an MRI. Again, a month has lapsed and not a word. I see on the Yuwin job site that there are two postings for MRI technician.
I also see that two doctors and two nurses in Watson Lake may leave due to a pet rule in the Yukon Housing where they live.
I also remember J. Trudeau bringing in a punitive tax measure with a one-two punch directed at doctors. Many took early retirement, stopped doing a lot of extra, unpaid work and new doctors looked for greener pastures in other countries.
Doctors spend decades learning their skills. Their courses and training are the toughest of any trade or profession.
Maybe doctors, nurses and medical technicians need their own unions? They are being treated like a commodity by politicians who have scant education, little scientific understanding and huge egos.
How many politicians can hide behind our Chief Medical Officer and fail to address the rampant absenteeism, the absolute deficit of doctors and nurses and the failure of Whitehorse General Hospital to carry out its duties with regards to laboratory testing, MRIs, x-rays and dealing with other medical conditions besides our almost non-existent Covid cases?
Maybe they took a page from Trump's manual? No testing - no medical conditions. Lots of money saved.

Up 17 Down 18

Larry Regimbald on Oct 21, 2020 at 6:48 am

All nurses and doctors should work with their military equivalents and maybe civilian nurses can understand the phrase “heavy workload”. I bet if you give them a raise or extra vacation days, they will shut their mouths for a month or so.

Up 31 Down 13

Bob Graham on Oct 21, 2020 at 6:15 am

The problem with Union's is they cry "wolf" so often that you can never really tell when they are expressing a real issue! I would be much more concerned if multiple front line nurses expressed same concern.

Up 23 Down 4

Unfeckingbelievable! on Oct 20, 2020 at 5:29 pm

Keep this in mind... The government has created layers of protectionism to keep itself from being accountable for its decisions.
It is astounding to see such governmental apologists take the stand for the offender. We have seen enough victim blaming from the federal liberals, the courts and the Yukon courts to tolerate this from you and the territorial liberals too.

The totalitarian attitudes of the supposed leadership are long, long overdue for redress. But hey, if you don’t like it you can take Woodcutters suggestion and leave. We want justice and equity for all!

Up 57 Down 9

Groucho d'North on Oct 20, 2020 at 3:03 pm

Rather than spending millions of carbon tax dollars on climate initiatives that never seem appear other than in the form of platitudes and promises - this money could be redirected to our ailing health system.
I remember Fentie went to Ottawa for more Health money and was successful, one would expect a local Liberal government could sway their federal counterpart to open the purse strings a bit more to address this concern.

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