Debt ridden hospital corp. needs $50M

Yukon Hospital Corporation needs another $50 million. And it needs it soon. This nasty surprise was announced last week by Craig Tuton, the hospital corporation's chair, when he appeared before the legislature.

Yukon Hospital Corporation needs another $50 million.

And it needs it soon.

This nasty surprise was announced last week by Craig Tuton, the hospital corporation’s chair, when he appeared before the legislature.

Whitehorse General Hospital is under “tremendous pressure,” said Tuton. Its emergency room was inadequate when it was first built and is increasingly under strain. The same goes with the hospital’s laboratory and medical imaging systems.

The corporation is currently in talks with the government about how to pay for these upgrades, Tuton said.

But, seeing as how the cash-strapped territory doesn’t have $50 million to spare, if this work is done this fiscal year, it will likely be financed the same way as other hospital infrastructure: by going to the bank for a loan.

The corporation is already borrowing $67 million to build new hospitals in Watson Lake and Dawson City and a new medical residence in Whitehorse.

“This boggles the mind,” the NDP’s Steve Cardiff said yesterday. “How did we get to this $50 million surprise?

“What is going on under this minister’s watch? How can we handle this $50-million bill on top of the $67 million the minister has already committed to three other big hospital projects? How did we get into this situation and what is the minister’s plan to correct it?”

Health Minister Glenn Hart didn’t provide much of an answer, other than to say demand for hospital services has grown over the past decade.

Cardiff went on to wonder aloud whether the territory would enter a public-private partnership to pay for the hospital renovation. But Tuton and Hart have both insisted the government has no such plans.

The pricey plans to upgrade Whitehorse General Hospital are just the latest controversy to hit the hospital corporation.

This week, both the Liberals and NDP have devoted considerable time during question period taking shots at the controversial plans to build rural hospitals with borrowed money, and at the $80,000 public-relations campaign underway to defend this work.

The hospital corporation shouldn’t be spending its money on radio, print and internet advertising to defend the Yukon Party’s decision to build hospitals with borrowed money, said Liberal Leader Arthur Mitchell.

“We’d rather see it spent on an extra nurse or more money spent on children with autism,” he said on Monday.

The NDP’s Todd Hardy, meanwhile, said the government was “flying blind” by building hospitals without first studying whether these facilities are needed.

“They have no studies – none – to justify this massive expenditure. What kind of accountability is that to the people of this territory? Zero.”

The territory did hire consultants last summer to project medical needs in Watson Lake and Dawson City. But by then it was already a foregone conclusion that new hospitals would be built in the communities.

And the projections are little more than a guess. They’re based on the most optimistic growth rates used by the territory’s statistics branch, but a statistician would never vouch for the big assumptions being used by the territory.

It’s notoriously difficult to forecast how Yukon’s residents will move from community to community within the territory, so statisticians don’t try.

As an earlier report done in 2004 by Options Consulting on Watson Lake’s health-care needs states, “it is not possible to reliably estimate projected future demand.”

But that’s exactly what the territory has made a show of doing, based on the bet that both Watson Lake and Dawson City will swell from a mining boom they expect to soon hit the territory.

Both opposition parties say Dawson City and Watson Lake need replacements for their aging medical facilities. But they question whether 24-hour acute-care hospitals are the answer.

The NDP is calling on the territory to consider adopting more “collaborative care,” which includes offering more medical services to the elderly within their homes.

The territory has recently struck a collaborative care committee, said Hart, “and we’ve already had several meetings.” But the government will have to consult with the public before rolling out any future services, he said.

Contact John Thompson at

johnt@yukon-news.com.