The president of the Yukon Medical Association (YMA) says he hopes the association, physicians and Whitehorse General Hospital can work together on short- and long-term solutions after a psychiatrist was assaulted by a patient last month.
It’s important though, he emphasized, to not further stigmatize people living with mental illness.
“I think it’s important to recognize there are still patients that still require care and that need is not going to disappear anytime soon,” Dr. Ryan Warshawski said in an interview Nov. 5.
There’s a “small and close medical community here in the territory,” Warshawski said, and as a result, he heard about the Oct. 28 assault on the psychiatrist, who was working on the secure medical unit, fairly soon after it happened.
The assault led to Summit Health Associates, the territory’s lone psychiatric clinic, withdrawing its services from Whitehorse General Hospital. The clinic previously told the News in a written statement that its psychiatrists had been “pleading for improved standards at the hospital” by raising safety concerns on behalf of both staff and patients.
It added that it would “not stop advocating to our hospital and government for safe mental health care that Yukoners desperately need, and hope to be able to reconsider our withdrawal.”
Warshawski, an emergency room physician, said that while “there is an element of physical danger that is part of the job no matter what you do,” the question was about how to mitigate risks as much as possible to ensure staff safety while also still allowing for proper patient care.
In the short-term, Warshawski said he’d like to see the hospital work closely with the psychiatrists on making immediate improvements as well as identify and liaise with more Outside institutions that can take patients who can’t receive adequate care in Whitehorse. The long-term would require the hospital, YMA, Yukon government and psychiatrists to come together and build a system that meets both patient and care-provider needs.
“I think that the important thing here is that we’re able to learn from the incident and move forward… And sometimes that’s a challenging thing to do and I’m hopeful that all the parties involved can come together to you know, create a system that’s ultimately going to benefit some of the most vulnerable patients in the territory,” he said.
He added that the YMA hasn’t received formal complaints before specifically regarding physician safety on the secure medical unit, and that it was important to recognize that the vast majority of patients with mental health issues are not a threat.
“I don’t think we need to further stigmatize a population that already deals with a lot of stigma against them,” he said. “So I really would like to emphasize that the vast majority of people with mental health conditions are in fact not dangerous to other people.”
Contact Jackie Hong at firstname.lastname@example.org