Dawson short on docs

When it is struggling to keep a single doctor in town, Dawson City residents are wondering how the Yukon government will staff a hospital. Two weeks ago the Yukon Environmental and Socio-Economic Assessment Board held a public meeting.

When it is struggling to keep a single doctor in town, Dawson City residents are wondering how the Yukon government will staff a hospital.

Two weeks ago the Yukon Environmental and Socio-Economic Assessment Board held a public meeting to discuss the Yukon Hospital Corporation’s new facility.

A poignant question was asked by town councillor Stephen Johnson.

Dawson’s current doctor, Gerard Parsons, is leaving for a year-long sabbatical in July and hasn’t found someone to replace him for the duration of that time.

Where, Johnson was curious to know, will the Yukon Hospital Corporation find the staff to run its facility?

Even when doctors have been found, another issue will be finding places for them to live.

The town is experiencing a serious shortage of housing and Johnson questions where these new doctors will live after they move to Dawson.

“I just find it really interesting that we’re going to have a hospital with a whole stack of doctors and nurses and I just wonder what’s happening as far as the human resources for this enterprise goes,” said Johnson.

The criticism is one of many residents have lobbed at the Yukon Hospital Corporation in regards to the proposed facility.

The building’s location, next to Minto Park and overlapping the main tent site for the Dawson City Music Festival, has triggered the biggest outcry amongst residents.

So, too, has the design of the building, which residents say doesn’t blend well with nearby heritage buildings, like the Dawson City Museum.

Meanwhile others question the actual need for a $25-million hospital facility in a town of about 1,000 people.

“We’re building a so-called hospital – is it really just an office building with a nursing station attached,” said Johnson.

The new facility won’t even have the resources to deliver babies, he points out. “And we used to deliver a whole whack of babies up here in Dawson.”

The hospital corporation is hoping that word of a modern facility in Dawson will attract doctors north, said hospital liaison nurse Val Pike.

Ultimately, however, the responsibility to retain any doctors will be up to the territorial government.

“We don’t hire physicians,” said Yukon Hospital Corporation CEO Joe MacGillivray.

“We do, however, have a huge interest in ensuring there are doctors at the hospital.”

The corporation envisions at least three physicians working out of the new facility. They’ll be assisted by about 40 staff, similar to the size of the hospital facility in Watson Lake, said MacGillivray.

“We’ve already started to discuss with the government how to recruit and retain staff,” he said, adding that the corporation plans to work with Yukon Housing to source out housing for them.

But the issue of staffing is still a ways down the road, said MacGillivray, explaining that the opening of the 2,100 square metre facility won’t happen until December of 2012.

Until then, Dawson still faces the possibility of losing its only doctor.

Two doctors have been found to replace Parsons over the summer months, but neither will stay come fall, said Health and Social Services spokesperson Pat Living.

Parsons owns a private clinic and isn’t on contract with the government. That means Parsons, not the government, is responsible for finding a replacement when he’s gone, but the government is still stepping in to help Parsons secure a doctor for the town, said Living.

“We recognize that Dawson needs a physician,” she said.

The Health and Social Services Department would like to see two full-time doctors, instead of one, taking care of residents in Dawson in the short term, she said.

But how Parsons or the government will attract those two doctors come September is still unclear.

“We’re not there yet,” said Living.

Contact Vivian Belik at


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