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Graham accuses NDP of 'playing silly political games'

Health Minister Doug Graham says that the NDP Opposition's demand for the Yukon Hospital Corporation to appear before the legislative assembly during the fall sitting is "ridiculous.

Health Minister Doug Graham says that the NDP Opposition’s demand for the Yukon Hospital Corporation to appear before the legislative assembly during the fall sitting is “ridiculous.”

Graham says he told the NDP’s health critic, Jan Stick, two weeks ago that the corporation’s officials would “definitely” appear before the legislature this coming sitting.

“For her then to say that the NDP continues to call on me to have the hospital corporation appear before the legislative assembly is just silly because she knew in advance it was going to happen,” he said in an interview yesterday.

“I believe the NDP are playing silly political games with the whole process. I think it’s a horrible thing to do when you consider that people died here,” said Graham, referring to recent inquests into the death of two Yukoners who died after treatment at the Watson Lake Hospital.

“To use these deaths to further their own political interests is ridiculous.”

The NDP is also calling on the government to adopt all the recommendations made by the coroner’s inquest into the death of Mary Johnny. Graham said he will leave that up to the Yukon Hospital Corporation.

On Friday, jurors ruled that Johnny’s death was a homicide. That means the death was caused by a human, but it doesn’t lay the blame on anyone specific.

Johnny died two years ago after receiving treatment at the Watson Lake Hospital for six days. She was medevaced to Whitehorse General Hospital on Aug. 8, 2012 but died the next day. Several health professionals told the inquest they believed Johnny should have be sent to Whitehorse sooner.

NDP health critic Jan Stick said it’s time for the hospital corporation and the government to be accountable to Yukoners.

“They must explain which steps are being taken to improve the worrying and systemic problems at Watson Lake’s hospital - and to ensure that they won’t ever happen again,” she said in a release on Monday.

That day the Yukon Hospital Corporation also issued a statement saying it would look closely at the jury’s recommendations.

“There will be a role for Yukon’s hospitals, physicians and other system partners as we undertake a review and work together to make improvements,” said CEO Jason Bilsky.

Graham said he was pleased to see the corporation taking this situation seriously and wanting to make improvements within its own system. But he said it’s important not to interfere with the process that is already in place.

“There’s legislation set specifically so that political interference is not a part of the process. The NDP seem to think that political interference in the process of the coroner’s office is perfectly alright, and it’s not.”

Another avenue to address issues with medical services is the Yukon Medical Council, Graham said.

“We don’t interfere with that process,” he said.

“Doctors are self-regulating in this territory and if there are problems we’d like to see them handled by the Yukon Medical Council. I’m sure they could handle it adequately.”

During last week’s four-day inquest the jury heard testimony from 20 witnesses.

They included several nurses, physicians, relatives, members of the medevac team that flew Johnny to Whitehorse and other medical experts.

Some witnesses testified that Johnny should have been medevaced much earlier, when signs appeared that her health began deteriorating.

They used blood test results and progress reports to determine Johnny’s health early on in her stay at the Watson Lake Hospital.

Dr. Said Secerbegovic, Johnny’s physician for 35 years, testified he delayed the decision to medevac until the 8th because he believed her health would stabilize.

He also said he was severely overworked and didn’t always fill out the necessary paperwork.

According to the coroner’s report, Johnny died of a bowel obstruction after being originally diagnosed as having alcohol withdrawal.

The jury listed the cause of death as hypovolemic shock secondary to intravascular volume depletion and multi-organ failure.

Hypovolemic shock is a situation where severe blood loss makes the heart unable to pump enough blood to the body.

Intravascular volume depletion refers to extreme vomiting or diarrhea.

The jury made four recommendations directed at the Yukon Hospital Corporation.

The first is to carry out routine audits to “ensure standards for adequate and timely documentation of patient care are adhered to.”

The second is to review policies and procedures for the transfer of patients from rural medical centres to regional care centres.

The third is to develop a standardized process to address do-not-resuscitate orders.

The fourth is to mandate physicians working in rural hospitals to complete Advanced Trauma Life Support, as well as Advanced Cardiac Life Support courses.

Dr. Secerbegovic admitted he hadn’t completed either course in the past 15 years.

Liberal leader Sandy Silver said he asked Premier Darrell Pasloski several weeks ago to have the hospital corporation appear before the legislative assembly this sitting. He has yet to receive a response, he said.

“Of course the hospital corporation should appear to answer questions about how they intend to resolve this specific incident,” he said.

“It doesn’t have to be the president who comes to talk to us. The hospital corporation can call whoever they deem necessary to actually give the answers to the public that are needed.

“As long as we’re asking the right people these questions.”

Johnny’s death also shines a light on alcohol abuse in Yukon communities and reminds us that more needs to be done, Silver added.

Eva Johnny, Mary’s mother, spoke through her lawyer this week and shared her thoughts on the inquest.

“She is happy that it is public information now, and hopes that the verdict will instigate urgently required changes to the health-care system so that community members are treated with the care and respect that they deserve,” wrote Jennifer Cunningham, counsel for the Johnny family, in an email.

“Mary Johnny lived with her difficult past and she experienced a tragic and preventable death. She was deeply loved and she is deeply missed.”

Contact Myles Dolphin at