Doctors sign new deal with territory

The Yukon Medical Association and territory have reached a new five-year agreement. Announced Tuesday, the $8.5-million agreement includes $1.

The Yukon Medical Association and territory have reached a new five-year agreement.

Announced Tuesday, the $8.5-million agreement includes $1.6 million over five years for a collaborative-care clinic.

This clinic would employ a variety of professionals, including therapists, nutritionists and social workers, as well as physicians and nurses.

The government hopes to have a collaborative-care clinic operating within 18 months to two years, said Doug Graham, minister of health and social services. A working group will be formed within a month.

The Yukon is the last jurisdiction in Canada to license nurse practitioners, said Graham. It is a “huge priority for this government,” he said. Legislation to grant them licences will come forward this fall, said Pat Living, spokesperson for health and social services.

Much of the deal focuses on recruiting doctors to the territory and encouraging them to stay once they get here. The government offers assistance to help students repay their loans, covers relocation costs and has an office renovation fund.

Overall, the Yukon Medical Association is pleased with the agreement, but more needs to be done, said Dr. Rao Tadepalli, president of the association.

“We need to attract physicians,” he said. There will be four doctors either retiring or leaving soon, he said. “This will produce a severe shortage of family doctors,” he said. “Recruitment and retention is the main priority that we see that needs to happen with family doctors.”

More needs to be done for emergency care at the hospital as well, he said. It is over-crowded. The government will pay for a physician to work additional hours in the department during the day, but has asked the hospital to come up with the rest of the resources, he said.

And the current facilities at Whitehorse General Hospital are “severely restricted” when it comes to providing long-term care, he said.

New hospitals at Watson Lake and Dawson City may provide some relief. An estimated 100 long-term-care beds will be needed in the territory over the next 10 years, said Dr. Graham Henderson, chief of medical staff of the Yukon Hospital Corporation, in his annual report. But any relief those new facilities might provide will not be coming for a little while.

Both hospitals are behind schedule and over-budget. Craig Tuton, chair of the Yukon Hospital Corporation, made the announcement at the corporation’s annual general meeting last week.

The corporation is “very confident” the Watson Lake facility will be open in early spring of next year, he said. It was supposed to open late last year or early this year.

The hospital in Dawson City should open shortly after, he said. It was originally supposed to open at the end of this year.

Both projects are over-budget, but Jason Bilsky, chief executive officer of the corporation, was not able to say by how much.

The corporation will need more government funding to cover the additional costs.

Controversy has surrounded the facilities for years. In 2010, then-premier Dennis Fentie borrowed $167 million to build these hospitals, as well as to expand the Mayo hydroelectric project.

During work on the Watson Lake facility, problems with the structure and its water and sewage systems were found, said Tuton.

These problems could not have been anticipated, said Bilsky.

In Dawson, the hospital’s design had to be changed to meet city standards and heritage requirements, said Tuton. Originally, the building was designed to be 50 feet tall – 15 feet higher than municipal bylaws allow. “Issues” with subcontractors have caused additional delays, said Tuton. He called this “totally unexpected.”

The Watson Lake hospital is fully staffed, but staff still need to be hired for Dawson, said Tuton.

A facilities administrator should be hired for the hospital soon, said Bilsky. The model of care for the facility has not yet been decided.

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