Opposition questions hospital expansion plans

The Liberals' Sandy Silver wants to know who is paying for the planned expansion of the Whitehorse General Hospital. The Yukon Hospital Corporation has a habit of borrowing money, he said.

The Liberals’ Sandy Silver wants to know who is paying for the planned expansion of the Whitehorse General Hospital.

The Yukon Hospital Corporation has a habit of borrowing money, he said. And he wants to know if that’s how it plans to fund its latest project.

Silver has “lots of questions, but no answers,” he said. But he does know one thing: this project will cost much more than what was originally touted.

When hospital corporation chair Craig Tuton appeared in the legislature in 2010, he said the project would only cost around $40 million. But a recently released report by Stantec says construction at the new hospital could cost $287 million over the next two decades.

Under the plan, tabled in the legislature last week, work to expand and renovate the hospital would be completed by 2033.

Yukon doctors have long been asking for more beds in the hospital and a larger emergency room. This construction plan brings the total number of beds to more than 100 in 2035, from 55 beds today.

It also includes building a new emergency room. The current emergency room is in the middle of the hospital and can’t be made any bigger.

The new hospital will also have space for a MRI unit. The Yukon Hospital Foundation has been raising money for the machine. Once it is purchased, the Whitehorse General Hospital will be the only facility North of 60 to have one.

When questioned by Silver in the legislature on Nov. 22, Health Minister Doug Graham said that he hadn’t committed to the Stantec plans.

“There’s been no decision at this time whether to go ahead with the concept plan as produced by the Yukon Hospital Corporation, or whether in fact to take a completely different direction,” said Graham.

Similarly, the territory hasn’t decided how hospital upgrades will be funded, he said. “I’m not willing to commit us to anything.”

The Stantec report itself cost $350,000 to prepare, said Liberal spokesperson Jason Cunning.

This new report comes shortly after the Yukon Hospital Corporation announced that its new hospitals in Watson Lake and Dawson City are behind schedule and over-budget. The Dawson City hospital was supposed to open this fall at a cost of $26.5 million. It is now expected to be complete early next year at $29.7 million. The price tag for the Watson Lake hospital has risen from $22.1 million to $24.5 million. It was supposed to open this past spring. It now won’t open until this coming spring.

The corporation has $52 million in bank loans. In 2010, then-premier Dennis Fentie borrowed $167 million to build the hospitals in Dawson City and Watson Lake, as well as to expand the Mayo hydroelectric project.

The new report has opposition leaders questioning the government’s overall approach to health care. The government recently announced the Dawson City hospital will be an acute-care facility. But it hasn’t explained what that means, said Silver.

This shows a breakdown in communication and a lack of a common vision for health care, he said. The opposition parties have long been calling for a collaborative model of health care in the territory, where doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other health-care professionals work together to deliver services. But there’s been no indication of what services will be offered at the Dawson City hospital, said Silver.

“This file is definitely not closed,” he said.

NDP Leader Liz Hanson shares Silver’s concerns about how spending on these acute-care facilities fits into the government’s overall health-care strategy.

“There’s kind of a disjointed approach by the government,” she said. “We talk about wellness, we talk about the aspect of collaborative care. And if you’re really serious about that, you would not need to be emphasizing so much of the acute-care aspect.”

A report from the auditor general on how the government and hospital corporation are managing the new hospitals is due out early next year, she said. Decisions about how to spend money on these projects should not be made until that report is released, she said.

Hanson said she wouldn’t offer an opinion on the Stantec report until she has more information.

Tuton, the hospital corporation chair, did not respond to an interview request before press time.

Contact Meagan Gillmore at