Little progress has been made to alleviate the situation of highly intoxicated individuals coming daily to the emergency room at the Whitehorse General Hospital, according to emergency room doctor Rao Tadepalli.
“The ER has become a dumping ground for this problem that needs to be dealt with,” he said in an interview last week.
The emergency room sees a rotating cast of chronic alcoholics who visit regularly, said Tadepalli.
It’s not the right place for them to be, and it’s not the right place for others, either, he said.
“When a child is sick or your mother is sick or one of us is sick, we want a healing atmosphere, we don’t really want a crammed-up ER to be dealing with people who are intoxicated and causing a lot of noise.”
In 2010 Dr. Bruce Beaton and Champagne and Aishihik First Nations Chief James Allen produced a report with a series of recommendations for helping acutely intoxicated people in the Yukon.
The top recommendation was to “alleviate rapidly the staffing and physical resource crisis” caused by intoxicated people attending the emergency room.
Things have not gotten much better since then, said Tadepalli.
“Every day we go in, we see in the waiting room queue somebody who has got their legs spread out and is falling off the wheelchair, who has come off the ambulance, or somebody who has been brought in by RCMP.
“It’s not that we don’t want to care for them, it’s just that they need care, but they don’t have a designated place to go.”
There needs to be a sobering centre where people can go and be supervised after they have been checked out by a doctor, when they no longer need acute care, said Tadepalli.
“Right now, the ER becomes the de-facto place for monitoring somebody of that nature.”
That was another of the recommendations in Beaton and Allen’s report.
The NDP Opposition questioned the government earlier this month on its progress related to the recommendations of the report.
“This isn’t just a Whitehorse problem,” said MLA Jan Stick in one of her questions. “This is territory-wide.”
The needs assessment for the Waston Lake hospital indicated that 60 per cent of services accessed are alcohol related, she said.
“What is the government’s immediate plan to increase appropriate alcohol and drug services across the territory and reduce inappropriate pressures on emergencies everywhere?” asked Stick.
Health Minister Doug Graham responded that the government is doing many things to help the problem.
“There’s no doubt that, at the present time, individuals still utilize the ER for alcohol-related difficulties, but with the advent of the assisted services provided at the Sarah Steele Building, we have had a number of diversions of intoxicated persons from the ER,” he said.
“We have also done a number of different things to ensure that these people receive assistance. We have put LPNs on shifts at the detox centre, we have added a quality-assurance RN to the staff complement, and we have added a social worker to the detox unit. We are making those changes as we speak.
“We have also started a service in downtown Whitehorse – a referred care clinic – to which persons who present themselves at the emergency centre may be referred, instead of taking the time at the ER. We are making progress and we will continue to do so.”
According to numbers provided by the Yukon Hospital Corporation, there were 1,569 alcohol-related visits to the ER in the 2012-2013 fiscal year, down from 1,744 in 2009-2010.
That’s a rate of more than four alcohol-related visits per day.
But those numbers don’t tell the whole story, said Tadepalli.
“Let’s say we have a broken jaw from a fight. We write on the diagnosis, ‘fractured jaw.’ It doesn’t matter that the person is intoxicated. That doesn’t get documented.”
Contact Jacqueline Ronson at