The Whitehorse Correctional Centre inspection report released Aug. 15 by David Loukidelis mentions that a primary assessment has been done for a possible new secure forensic medical unit at the Whitehorse General Hospital. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)

No new forensic unit planned for Whitehorse’s hospital

Justice says hospital may expand services it offers inmates but not enough to qualify as ‘forensic’

Officials with both the Yukon Justice Department and the Whitehorse General Hospital say there are no plans to establish a new secure forensic unit at the hospital despite a recommendation in the inspection report of the Whitehorse Correctional Centre that the government “continue” to work towards establishing one.

The inspection report, by David Loukidelis, was released Aug. 15 and mentions a “primary assessment has recently been done for a possible new secure forensic medical unit at the Whitehorse General Hospital.”

Allan Lucier, assistant deputy minister of justice, said his department has been talking to the Yukon Hospital Corporation about expanding the hospital’s current facility to offer more services to inmates, but not enough to qualify as a “forensic” unit to treat inmates who have been found unfit or not criminally responsible.

The conversations are still in the early stages and no actual assessment has been written, he said.

Currently, the hospital’s secure unit offers mental health care for Yukoners “but would be challenged to meet the complex high risk needs of forensic patients,” hospital spokesperson Cam Heke said in a statement.

“Our general acute care hospital isn’t equipped with the security, space or programming to manage a secure forensic unit.”

Inmates do sometimes use the facilities at the hospital in the short term. In other cases inmates would “go into separate confinement or segregation where they could be monitored more closely but still that is not a hospital setting,” Lucier said.

Yukoners who are found unfit or not criminally responsible have to be sent Outside for care in forensic facilities if they need it.

Lucier said the ability to take care of those complex cases “probably just doesn’t exist in our jurisdiction.”

The inspection report also calls on the government to remove the jail’s legal “hospital” status. In 1993, the Yukon’s health minister designated Whitehorse Correctional Centre a hospital for specific purposes under the Criminal Code.

Most recently Yukon Supreme Court Justice Ron Veale recommended removing the designation while discussing the case of Michael Nehass whose years at the jail raised significant concerns about the treatment of inmates with mental health concerns and the use of solitary confinement.

Removing the hospital designation is not likely to have much of an impact on the daily lives of inmates with mental health concerns. Inmates are not at the correctional centre in its capacity as a hospital until after the review board has found them unfit or not criminally responsible.

In Nehass’s case, he was only found unfit for a short period of his incarceration before that ruling was overturned.

In some cases inmates who are being cared for by forensic hospitals Outside have to return to the Yukon for hearings. Without a hospital designation those people could not stay at the jail, Lucier said.

“The vast majority of individuals that we deal with are not designated NCR but a large number of them come to us with varying degrees of mental illness manifestation,” Lucier said.

In a statement, Justice spokesperson Megan Foreman said the department agrees that getting rid of the designation is “ultimately the optimal outcome.”

“We have openly acknowledged the challenges associated with WCC being designated a hospital and are reviewing the connected legislative frameworks and policies in order to determine the best course forward,” she wrote.

With files from Jackie Hong

Contact Ashley Joannou at ashleyj@yukon-news.com

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