New beds: ‘Gong show’ or damage control?

Call it fortunate timing or sloppy damage control, but a dozen beds suddenly became available for long-term care patients this week when it was…

Call it fortunate timing or sloppy damage control, but a dozen beds suddenly became available for long-term care patients this week when it was revealed just how badly they’re needed.

On Wednesday, Health and Social Services Minister Brad Cathers announced the final wing at Copper Ridge Place — which contains 12 beds for long-term care patients — will soon be opened at a cost of about $1.4 million per year.

Cathers made the announcement amid a tussle with doctors.

A media report Wednesday morning exposed a “crisis” at Whitehorse General Hospital created by the shortage of long-term care beds in Whitehorse.

Seniors waiting for a bed in a long-term facility occupy nearly 30 per cent of the hospital’s beds, said Dr. Rao Tadepalli, president of the Yukon Medical Association and president of medical staff at the hospital.

Out of 40 beds in total, that means eight to 10 beds are occupied by seniors waiting for nursing home spots, he said.

Taxpayers pay about three times more to house an elderly person at the hospital than at a nursing home, he added.

On Wednesday afternoon, the Liberals attacked Cathers, noting the Copper Ridge beds were promised more than a year ago.

“When is this minister going to stop talking, planning, studying, and consulting, and actually open these much-needed beds?” said Liberal leader Arthur Mitchell during question period.

Cathers then stood up and announced the new beds.

And on Thursday, Whitehorse General Hospital chief executive officer Michael Aeberhardt joined Cathers in seeking to counter Tadepalli’s concerns.

The hospital “fully recognizes that the population of the Yukon is aging and that this often places challenges on acute-care hospitals,” Aeberhardt told a news conference.

“However, Whitehorse General Hospital is pleased with minister Cathers’ recent announcement of opening 12 beds at Copper Ridge. This commitment should have a direct benefit to the hospital and our ability to continue to provide exemplary care.”

Aeberhardt also took issue with Tadepalli’s facts.

While Tadepalli suggested the hospital only has 40 beds, it actually has 49 acute-care beds, said Aeberhardt.

And the hospital sees a daily bed demand from long-term patients for between 10-20 per cent of those spots, rather than the 25-30 per cent that Tadepalli cited, he said.

The Yukon’s waiting list for long-term beds currently stands at 19 people, said assistant deputy minister Cathy Morton-Bielz.

There are currently six patients waiting at the hospital for beds, said Hospital Corp. spokesperson Val Pike.

The total of 19 would include those six, said Morton-Bielz.

Cathers has refused several requests to speak to the News.

But the government did issue a news release.

It states the beds at Copper Ridge will provide relief to clients on the waiting list for a bed and will help address bed pressure on the hospital.

“We’re dealing with some unexpected delays in opening the Thomson Centre,” said Cathers in the release. “Opening this unit will alleviate the waiting list and provide comfort to families.”

The department of Health will “immediately” purchase equipment and begin hiring staff for the new unit at Copper Ridge, the release stated.

No timeline was provided for the unit’s opening.

Despite quick efforts from both the government and the hospital to calm worries about the shortages, a darker story is emerging from within both camps.

A mould infestation at the Thomson Centre has delayed a Yukon Party election promise to open the facility to long-term patients within six months.

While the building is currently being used for outpatient treatment, the 48 long-term and palliative care beds in the facility have been placed off limits due to worries about mould since 2002.

The government still has not provided a timeline for when the centre will be re-opened, or how much repair-work to the building will cost taxpayers.

And the News had learned that deputy minister of Health, John Greschner, is resigning.

Things don’t appear much better at the Whitehorse hospital.

On Friday, an angry husband of a nurse who works at Whitehorse Hospital contacted the News.

“The guy’s full of BS,” said the man — who asked to remain anonymous — of Aeberhardt.

“My wife’s a nurse and she came home crying last night (Thursday). She got told that all nurses, whoever had holidays booked, will have to revisit their bookings.

“If you had a month off, now you’ve got two weeks off. They didn’t give a reason, they just told them that’s the way it is.”

The announcement was made to all staff Thursday afternoon, he said.

It has ruined the couple’s summer holiday plans and underlined how bad things are at the hospital, he said.

“They treat these gals poorly. They’re understaffed, they’re always scrambling trying to find staffing amongst different departments,” he said.

“My wife will get off a 12-hour shift, come home and the phone’s ringing saying ‘Hey, can you come in for another shift?’”

After question period Thursday, Premier Dennis Fentie applauded Aeberhardt’s comments, saying they corrected “misinformation” brought to the floor of the legislature by the Liberals.

“The recent one is the gong show they created yesterday in the health-care system, which was refuted quite well by the person in charge at the hospital corporation,” said Fentie.

“That’s an operational matter, and I think the CEO answered in great detail what was really happening,” said Fentie, placing emphasis on “really.”

Asked why he knew exactly what the CEO had said only hours after the news conference was held, Fentie was brusk.

“It’s my job to know what’s going on,” he said.

He then let on that he has never met or talked with Aeberhardt.

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