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Cabinet permits overflow hospital space at 2 Yukon long-term care homes

Thomson Centre and Whistle Bend Place were added to the list of locations deemed a hospital

Two long-term care homes can effectively become overflow hospital space as needed after a late-afternoon decision by cabinet on Feb. 8, the same day extraordinary steps were taken to address an abnormally busy emergency room and inpatient units at the Whitehorse General Hospital.

According to an email to the News from Yukon government cabinet communications, cabinet passed an order-in-council late on the afternoon of Feb. 8 that amends the Yukon Hospital Insurance Services Regulations to expand the definition of locations deemed a hospital so that Yukoners can get insured hospital services at more facilities.

Thomson Centre and Whistle Bend Place were added to the list of locations deemed a hospital.

The email from cabinet communications noted that being added to the list doesn’t mean these two places will be used or are being used — just that they can be used if necessary.

Patients at the Whitehorse General Hospital can potentially expect to get assessed and cared for in makeshift spaces and see emergency medical services (EMS) workers working inside the hospital as the hospital copes with being “very busy,” according to an advisory put out by the Yukon Hospital Corporation earlier on Feb. 8.

But Dr. Alex Kmet said no one should feel worried or delay seeking care despite a surge in demand at the Whitehorse General Hospital that has left the hospital corporation, the Yukon government and the Yukon Medical Association scrambling to ensure patient care isn’t compromised.

As president of the medical association and operating room doctor at the main hospital in the territory, Kmet told the News by phone on Feb. 8 that the three entities are coming together in a very short period of time to address a “significantly higher than normal” volume of people needing to be admitted to hospital and seeking help in the emergency department.

“It was rather unprecedented how quickly government and the hospital corps found a way to maximize resources to make sure that safe patient care still happens in the hospital,” Kmet said, noting that the quality of care is acceptable from his perspective.

While he’s seeing patients in non-traditional locations within the hospital, he said there hasn’t been disruption, for example, in the operating room.

The hospital’s emergency department and inpatient units are experiencing higher than normal volume and demand, per the advisory on the hospital corporation’s website and social media.

Unusual measures are being taken as a result.

“You may see our EMS partners within the hospital working alongside hospital staff to ensure you are well cared for,” reads the advisory. “You might also be assessed or cared for in spaces adapted for patient care.”

The advisory notes wait times are possibly longer than usual.

On its website, the hospital corporation runs a table that shows hospital occupancy and inpatient beds available daily. As of Feb. 8, the table shows the Whitehorse and Watson Lake hospitals are in the red, which means they had hit “unusually high demand for acute care services and space extremely limited/hospital full.”

A spokesperson for the hospital corporation said the hospital regularly sees high volumes, but it’s even higher than normal.

During a Feb. 8 interview by phone, Jessica Apolloni, who works in hospital communications, said there’s no one reason for the uptick.

“We’re just seeing more need from the community, so we’re seeing that demand go up,” she said.

Unconventional locations for patient care includes “any space that is not normally used for ‘inpatient’ care or patient care area but can be safely used to care for admitted patients or those awaiting discharge.”

As for when the situation will return to normal — or if this is something that Yukoners should get used to — Apolloni said the senior leadership team is meeting with the Yukon health department every day.

“We’re working on it,” she said.

The advisory indicates the hospital is now responding in a coordinated way with the Yukon government and Yukon Medical Association so that Yukoners can get access to hospital care when they need it and to take pressure off the hospital system.

Health and Social Services Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee was not available for an interview by print deadline.

A Yukon government announcement about steps being taken, including increasing walk-in clinic hours, is expected on Feb. 9.

Apolloni said the hospital is upping staffing where it’s needed and enhancing its discharge planning to home or other levels of care.

Kmet said the medical association’s role is supporting physicians in opening same-day appointments at their clinics and those who might have availabilities to assist in expanding walk-in clinic hours to reduce strain on the emergency room.

The association is also doing its part to ensure that doctors within the hospital system can seamlessly transition patients to the community or other facilities.

If someone needs urgent care, then go to the nearest emergency department or call 911, the advisory states.

The advisory adds that an individual’s health-care provider or the walk-in clinic may be called in non-emergency or less-urgent situations.

“We’re working to ensure timely care for everyone by focusing efforts to safely transition from the hospital care to home or a more appropriate level of care,” reads the advisory.

Contact Dana Hatherly at

Dana Hatherly

About the Author: Dana Hatherly

I’m the legislative reporter for the Yukon News.
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