Psychiatrist returns to Whitehorse General Hospital

After almost a year without one, a psychiatrist has been brought back to the Whitehorse General Hospital.

After almost a year without one, a psychiatrist has been brought back to the Whitehorse General Hospital.

The new deal, which started Monday, means there will now be a psychiatrist working at the hospital for set hours every weekday.

That’s a change from the unpredictable hours, schedule, and workload that led psychiatrists to stop serving the hospital last summer, said chief of staff Dr. Warren MacNicol.

“What it now does is, regardless of how many people are here, whether there’s no people in the hospital or there’s a bunch of people in the hospital, a psychiatrist is going to be available for four hours a day minimum to manage those patients’ care.”

Canadian Psychiatric Association standards say there should be between four or five psychiatrists in the Yukon to serve its population size.

Currently there are two full-time general psychiatrists in the territory. No new psychiatrist has been hired for the job at the hospital. Instead, Dr. Armando Heredia has agreed to take it on, on top of the work he already does.

Both Yukon psychiatrists have their own private practices and accept contracts with the health or justice departments, for example.

Under the old model, a psychiatrist worked for the hospital on an on-call basis and came in when needed. If a hospital patient needed a sudden high-level of care, the psychiatrist would have to cancel appointments at their own office and go to the hospital.

That kind of change, for patients who were expecting an appointment, is not good, MacNicol said.

One of the psychiatrists decided she couldn’t do hospital care because it was too disruptive to her patients, he said.

In July, Heredia also walked away. “And for similar reasons, it was so disruptive to his professional and personal life, and the demands were so great,” MacNicol said.

Without a psychiatrist, other hospital doctors took on the responsibility to prescribe medication and care for psychiatric patients at the hospital. If necessary, they could call an Outside doctor to get help over the phone.

With this new plan, Heredia will be in the hospital from 8 a.m. to noon. His primary focus will be on patients who are being involuntarily committed. That means they have been forced to stay at the hospital against their will because they are considered a risk to themselves or others, MacNicol said.

MacNicol is hopeful the set hours will mean more time for other types of care on days when there are fewer urgent cases.

Previously, voluntary admissions – people who choose to stay at the hospital to get help -“weren’t getting the consultant care that they should have got because there just wasn’t time for the psychiatrist to do that,” he said.

Last year the Yukon Medical Association called for more psychiatrists in the territory. President Alison Freeman said she’s pleased the hospital has found a solution, but points out that doesn’t change the need for more psychiatrists in the community.

“It’s a good step forward, but we still could use more psychiatrists for sure.”

MacNicol said he hopes this more predictable model will attract more psychiatrists to come work in the territory.

The hospital will be monitoring things closely to make sure the plan is working for everyone involved and tweak things if need be, he said.

“When I came on as chief of staff it became very evident that this was one of the major problem areas in the hospital. And not only in the hospital, to my way of thinking it is the major gap in care in the whole territory.”

Contact Ashley Joannou at

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