Crystal Schick/Yukon News A man walks into the emergency wing of the Whitehorse General Hospital on April 4. According to a report from the Yukon government, 61 per cent of 2018 emergency room visits were non-emergency related. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

NDP cries foul over the lack of data on non-emergency ER visits

The Whitehorse hospital’s emergency room will get about 33,000 visits this fiscal year

It is unclear how much money taxpayers could have saved if patients the Yukon government says did not need emergency department care were able to find help elsewhere.

In the fall of 2018, the Yukon government released a performance review, which states that 61 per cent of all emergency department visits could have been avoided.

It appears the Department of Health and Social Services (HSS) and the Yukon Hospital Corporation (YHC) don’t keep track of the dollar amount associated with this figure.

In a written statement, YHC spokesperson Matthew Davidson said, “Emergency department visits are complex and varied so it’s tough to speculate on a hypothetical figure.

“What matters most,” he continued, “is Yukoners receive safe, excellent care if and when they need it. Sometimes this care happens in our emergency departments.”

Physicians who staff emergency departments are paid by the Yukon government based on the services they provide, not the number of patients they see, Davidson added. Contracts for this work are predicated on an agreement between the Yukon Medical Association (YMA) and the territorial government.

The News reached out to Dr. Alex Poole, president of the YMA for comment, but didn’t receive a response.

Clarissa Wall, spokesperson with Health and Social Services, echoed Davidson’s statement:

“We don’t have a dollar figure for avoidable emergency room visits as it’s more about ensuring patients receive the best possible care than it is about saving money.”

Wall said some Yukoners could be better assisted by family physicians or nurse practitioners.

The Liberals have promised a comprehensive review of the health department — which takes up the largest portion of the territorial budget — by the end of the year.

“Our comprehensive review is looking into all the options to ensure Yukoners get the right care, at the right time, in the right place,” Wall said.

NDP House Leader Kate White told the News that it doesn’t make sense a dollar amount cannot be provided, considering this work spearheaded by HSS.

The 61 per cent represents an admission of an “inefficiency” for a government that pledges to be doing the opposite, she said.

“There should be an understanding of what the cost of someone walking into an emergency room before any other service happen. There’s got to be a base cost.”

The third party has raised the issue three times between March 21 and April 2. During question period on March 21, HSS Minister Pauline Frost said the issue was being “contemplated” as part of the health care review.

“When we look at the major cost-drivers as noted by the member opposite, we are seeing pressures at the emergency room. We have looked at services and supports. We are working with our partners and trying to eliminate the major pressures that we are seeing. We are doing that in full collaboration,” she said.

On April 1, White again asked how the 61 per cent translates to costs during a general debate.

HSS Minister Pauline Frost didn’t provide a number.

“I don’t have that information available,” she said. “I think that is very difficult to get. It really depends on the type of care that is required and the duration of time the individual spends there.”

White made a few suggestions of ways in which to offset emergency department visits.

Because of there are no family doctors currently accepting patients in Whitehorse, she said, drop-in clinics could help alleviate pressure on the hospital.

In response, Frost noted some of the strategies that Liberals are undertaking or planning to do so.

“We’ve seen significant reduction in emergency room visits here at the main Whitehorse General Hospital since we opened up the Whitehorse Emergency Shelter, so we are tracking that very closely with our EMS partners and the RCMP,” she said.

“… We supported the referred care clinic, ensuring that we provide additional supports for those clients who don’t have a physician and who require some specialized support.”

The Whitehorse hospital has 17 emergency beds after an expansion in 2018.

“As part of these 17, there are specialized rooms including two trauma bays, one bariatric room, one safe room, one OB-GYN room and one isolation room,” Davidson said.

The NDP says there will be more visits this year than previously anticipated, according to a 2014 needs assessment report based off figures from eight years ago.

Roughly 19,900 emergency room visits were expected in 2019 if non-emergency issues were to be treated at community-based services instead, it says, and 17 spaces would be required to accommodate these patients.

The actual number of visits to the emergency department are higher than predicted.

Citing more recent numbers in HSS’s supplementary budget information for 2018-19, the third party says 35,000 visits are anticipated at the Whitehorse hospital’s emergency room this year, 40,400 across the Yukon.

A third document, the 2019-2020 estimates, predicts 33,000 visits at the city’s emergency room and 5,300 at Watson Lake and Dawson City hospitals.

Davidson said that annual emergency department visits have been fairly consistent over five years, averaging in the low 30,000 range at the Whitehorse hospital.

“This range,” he said, “is well within what the emergency department was built to safely and effectively accommodate today. Based on demographic trends and population growth, and in the event non-emergency patients continue to seek care at the emergency department, the number of annual visits is expected to increase over the next decade.”

Davidson said community hospitals each average between 2,000 and 3,000 visits per year.

Contact Julien Gignac at julien.gignac@yukon-news.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: The aesthetics and economics of highway strips

One of the many cultural experiences you enjoy while driving from Whitehorse… Continue reading

Submitted
Artwork by Grade 2 student Faith showing her thanks for everyone.
Artwork by Grade 2 student Faith showing her thanks for everyone. (Submitted)
Yukon kids express gratitude for nature, pets and friends in art campaign

More than 50 children submitted artwork featuring things they are grateful for

Team Yukon skip Laura Eby, left, directs her team as Team Northern Ontario skip Krysta Burns looks on at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Calgary on Feb. 22. (Jeff McIntosh/CP)
Team Yukon reports positive experience at Scotties

Team Yukon played their final game at the national championship in Calgary on Thursday afternoon

A sign indicating a drop-off area behind Selkirk Elementary school in Whitehorse on Feb. 25. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Parking lot proposal for Selkirk Elementary criticized

Parents and school council are raising concerns about green space and traffic woes

adsf
WYATT’S WORLD

Wyatt’s World for Feb. 26, 2021

Tom Ullyett, pictured, is the first Yukoner to receive the Louis St-Laurent Award of Excellence from the Canadian Bar Association for his work as a community builder and mentor in the territory. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
Tom Ullyett wins lifetime achievement award from the Canadian Bar Association

Ullyett has worked in the Yukon’s justice ecosystem for 36 years as a public sector lawyer and mentor

The Blood Ties outreach van will now run seven nights a week, thanks to a boost in government funding. Logan Godin, coordinator, and Jesse Whelen, harm reduction counsellor, are seen here on May 12, 2020. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Blood Ties outreach van running seven nights a week with funding boost

The Yukon government is ramping up overdose response, considering safe supply plan

Ranj Pillai speaks to media about business relief programs in Whitehorse on April 1, 2020. The Yukon government announced Feb.25 that it will extend business support programs until September. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Government extends business relief programs to September, launches new loan

“It really gives folks some help with supporting their business with cash flow.”

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
A look at decisions made by Whitehorse City Council this week

Bylaw amendment Whitehorse city council is moving closer with changes to a… Continue reading

Susie Rogan is a veteran musher with 14 years of racing experience and Yukon Journey organizer. (Yukon Journey Facebook)
Yukon Journey mushers begin 255-mile race

Eleven mushers are participating in the race from Pelly Crossing to Whitehorse

Legislative assembly on the last day of the fall sitting in Whitehorse on Nov. 22, 2018. As the legislature prepares to return on March 4, the three parties are continuing to finalize candidates in the territory’s 19 ridings. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Nine new candidates confirmed in Yukon ridings

It has been a busy two weeks as the parties try to firm up candidates

David Malcolm, 40, has been charged with assaulting and attempting to disarm a police officer after an incident in Whitehorse on Feb. 18. (Phil McLachlan/Capital News)
Man resists arrest, assaults officer

A Whitehorse man has been charged with assaulting and attempting to disarm… Continue reading

Yukon Energy in Whitehorse on Aug. 4, 2020. A site on Robert Service Way near the Alaska Highway has been selected as the future home of Yukon Energy’s energy storage project. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Site selected for Yukon Energy battery project

Planned to be in service by the end of 2022

Most Read