Doctors deluged with drunks

The Yukon government is doing nothing to deal with the territory's alcohol problem, according to the Yukon Medical Association. Instead, it's employing stopgap measures.

The Yukon government is doing nothing to deal with the territory’s alcohol problem, according to the Yukon Medical Association.

Instead, it’s employing stopgap measures.

Next Monday, the Whitehorse General Hospital will begin a new two-tiered system to deal with its overcrowded ER.

The temporary system, which will only run this summer, will add an additional nine-hour shift – and therefore another doctor – to the ER.

This system was initially touted by the hospital and Health and Social Services as a way to deal with the closure of several local walk-in clinics.

Patients without a family doctor in Whitehorse could use the ER as a walk-in clinic from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

But the closed walk-in clinics won’t have that big an impact on the hospital, according to medical association president Rao Tadepalli.

“It’ll have a little impact, but not a big impact,” he said.

“The main issue is that the government hasn’t really sorted out the alcohol problem.”

Alcoholism is a major health problem, asserts Tadepalli.

But it’s a problem of the disadvantaged and doesn’t affect the majority of the population directly.

However, it has an effect on health-care workers every day.

And it also affects anyone who needs to use the hospital in an emergency, dealing with tired hospital staff and full ER beds.

The Yukon Medical Association fully supports the report written by the Task Force on Acutely Intoxicated Persons at Risk, co-chaired by Whitehorse physician Dr. Bruce Beaton and Champagne and Aishihik First Nations Chief James Allen.

That report was released early this year.

It recommended the government alleviate the staffing and resource crisis in the hospital’s ER.

It also recommended a sobering centre be opened in downtown Whitehorse, where acutely intoxicated people can be taken when detained by police. Currently, these people are brought to the hospital.

More than six months later, the government has yet to act upon these recommendations.

“What they should be doing is taking over the (old) Canadian Tire building or the Westmark Inn and put in a sobering centre staffed by qualified medical personnel,” said Tadepalli.

“And Mr. Pasloski should be announcing that. He’s had a downtown business, he knows the problem firsthand, that’s what he needs to do.”

Tadepalli took part in the NDP’s discussion of the Beaton/Allen report last month.

Territorial Liberal leader Arthur Mitchell was there, but no members of the Yukon Party made an appearance.

“They’re ignoring it totally,” said Tadepalli.

The problem with alcoholism in the ER is fairly constant, but it varies.

Doctors in the ER are dealing with intoxicated people about 10 to 30 per cent of the time.

“We’re not really doing anything to help them,” said Tadepalli.

“We’re just seeing these patients and then we’re sending them away and then they get drunk and we see them again.”

Contact Chris Oke at chriso@yukon-news.com