The Yukon government plans to use all 150 beds in the new Whistle Bend continuing care facility right away while waiting for two specialized units to open. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)

All 150 Whistle Bend continuing care beds slated to open this fall

Specialized units to open in 2019 and 2020, but for now all the beds will be for continuing care: YG

The Yukon government is going to use all 150 beds in the new Whistle Bend continuing care facility right away while waiting for two specialized units to open.

Originally, the plan was to open 120 continuing care beds this fall followed by an 18-bed palliative care unit in early 2019 and 12-bed complex care unit — which has been referred to in the past as the ‘mental health unit’ — in 2020.

Health and Social Services spokesperson Pat Living said the need for beds is high enough that all 150 beds will be used as continuing care to start off with.

Right now there are between 75 and 85 people on the wait list for a continuing care bed, Living said. That’s on top of the 50 or so people who will be moved out of Whitehorse’s Macaulay Lodge once the Whistle Bend facility opens.

“When we look at the numbers, 120 beds would have been filled right away, just with the people on the waitlist, the people who are currently in hospital and the people in Macaulay — that’s if nothing changes between now and October,” Living said. “Then we’re right back in the same situation. If we open the additional beds, we have the room and if we’ve got the space, why not have the beds open?”

Living said the plan is to still use the 30 specialized beds for their original purpose when they open in 2019 and 2020, as planned.

All continuing care facilities in the Yukon offer palliative care, she said. When the specialized unit in Whistle Bend opens, some clients might choose to move there.

As for the complex care unit, Living said it will focus on patients who have more complex needs.

“They are not mental health beds. They are complex care beds for individuals with such things as dementia and Alzheimer’s.” Clients in that unit will “have severe, complex, sometimes behavioural issues that can accompany (dementia or Alzheimer’s)” she said.

The government’s plan is to have the Whistle Bend building complete by this September and clients moving in come October, Living said.

In the legislative assembly March 20, Yukon Party MLA Patti McLeod questioned why the two specialized units could not be opened right away.

“The fact of the matter is that the facility is designed for 150 beds. The minister is telling us that she is going to allocate all 150 beds to continuing care in year one and that somehow, in year two, 30 of those beds will have to be freed up and be available for mental health and palliative care.”

Health Minister Pauline Frost said opening the specialized units early was not something the government could do.

“I think that the member opposite knows that, to provide care in these specialized facilities, you require specialized services and specialized individuals. We are working diligently to ensure that we have these supports in place in due time.”

McLeod suggested filling all 150 beds with continuing care patients meant some were going to have to leave to make room when the specialized units finally exist.

Frost denied that’s what would end up happening. She said opening the specialized units “is still in the plans” but didn’t provide any specifics.

Living said people living elsewhere in the Whistle Bend facility could be moved into specialized care. In other cases beds could open up through “attrition” over time.

The government is estimating the new Whistle Bend facility will need 250 employees. Of that, about 150 are expected to be new hires, Living said. The remaining will be moving over from Macaulay Lodge or other continuing-care facilities within the territory.

Living said the department has been talking with staff to see who might want to move over to the new facility.

They’ve also started talking to clients and their families living in other facilities to see if they want to move to Whistle Bend.

Living said residents will only be moved from other facilities if they agree or request to go to Whistle Bend. Living said that so far the uptake from residents has been “pretty high.” She suggested some may want to move because of the newer space and facilities.

The former government had intended to eventually build twice as many beds at the Whistle Bend facility. The Liberals cancelled that idea and promised more community-based services.

This week the government re-announced one of its flagship items that was part of 2018-19 territorial budget.

Officials with the Yukon Hospital Corporation say construction for 10 new continuing care beds at the Thomson Centre will start this summer.

The beds come with a budget of $1.23 million for renovations and equipment and an annual operating cost of $2.3 million.

There’s still no word on when the beds will actually be ready to use.

Hospital corporation spokesperson Cam Heke said that decision is still being made.

Whitehorse General Hospital has 56 total beds.

On March 20, Heke said the hospital was at 80 per cent capacity, but he called that an anomaly.

For the rest of March capacity has consistently ranged from 95 to 121 per cent, he said.

Of the hospital’s 39 general care beds, 15 are occupied by patients with care needs that don’t require the hospital. Eight need long-term care and the other seven need palliative care or home care, but not acute hospital care, he said.

Living said there is no guarantee that patients patients currently at Whitehorse General Hospital will get to move to the new Thomson Centre beds.

There may be people on the waitlist with a higher need, she said.

Living said the goal is to have the new Thomson Centre beds open “well before Whistle Bend.”

Contact Ashley Joannou at ashleyj@yukon-news.com

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