The new chief medical officer of health says the Yukon is entering new territory given that COVID-19 is sticking around.
Dr. Sudit Ranade spent the last decade working as medical officer of health for Lambton Public Health in southern Ontario.
Ranade gave his first official COVID-19 address to Yukoners on July 13. He spoke with the News by phone on July 14 about his new role after being on the job up North for less than two weeks.
Reporter: Do you think COVID-19 is over?
Ranade: The pandemic is not over. COVID-19 is not over.
But the situation we’re in in 2022 is different from the situation that we were in in 2020.
We have two full years of learning.
The virus itself has changed, and our response tools like vaccines have changed. We have more things that we can do. It’s a good time to revisit what’s the approach.
In 2020, I think the thinking was, ‘if we do all of these things, we can just stop it.’
And then later, the thinking was, ‘if we do all of these things, we can slow it down.’
I think now the thinking is, ‘it’s around, we need to deal with the fact that it’s around.’
But the level of disease that it causes can be mitigated and reduced and lowered. We can have fewer people with severe disease, but we’re going to move away from talking about sort of, you know, who has it and how much of it is circulating.
Because it’s going to be a thing that continues to circulate.
So, not over.
But different, and so our response needs to be different.
Reporter: Do we need policies in place to protect people, for example, the most vulnerable people and the capacity of the health-care system to care for them?
Ranade: It’s a good question, and the answer to that is: possibly. The health-care system certainly is one factor.
If you have too many people who are sick at one time needing care, then that system can be overwhelmed, and so that might be a place where you need to think about particular policies.
Vulnerability itself is a word that means different things to different people, right? So, there’s what I might consider people to be medically vulnerable for medical risks.
Deciding who is vulnerable is partly a matter of how people feel, and partly a matter of what the evidence tells us.
That’s the challenge: to make policy around that space of protecting vulnerable people when you have a disease that has changed like this, and [it’s] going to be around for a really long time.
You have to start figuring out how you live with the fact that this disease is around, and that’s not easy.
I think everybody’s going to have a different pace of moving towards that place.
We have to figure out how to integrate it into what we do and how we think about how we live.
Reporter: Would you say the Yukon is experiencing a health-care crisis?
Ranade: That is probably too hard for me to say right now, because I’m a little bit new to this territory.
I don’t have all of the information networks that would help me to understand whether that’s true.
Here’s what I can say: Most places in Canada are experiencing issues with human resources and infrastructure for their health-care system, and so I expect that Yukon would be similar in that aspect. There’s lots of stories around about people not being able to access primary care enough, and I’m sure that’s happening here as well.
This is a good opportunity to think about what capacity is needed in the health-care system, and how do we move to a better kind of system that works for more people.
But that’s not an isolated discussion here in the Yukon. That’s actually happening everywhere.
Reporter: Premiers across Canada are calling for increased federal government health-care spending to address what they effectively consider a buckling health-care system. Do you think more money will help the territory deal with what some people are calling a health-care crisis?
Ranade: I think it might be one part of the solution.
But, obviously, all systems have to figure out: how are they using those funds, and are they being used to the most advantage?
Especially in the Yukon, there are particular concerns around the remoteness of people and their level of access to care compared to people who might live in a place where care is more available, so it’s trying to address those kinds of things, maybe through technology, maybe through human resources, maybe through more community-centred care, and that does require money, but money is not the only thing.
It needs a clear kind of vision for what is the system.
It’s hard to make a system be everything for everyone.
Reporter: What changes will you bring to address the Yukon’s state of emergency related to the opioid crisis?
Ranade: There’s a lot that I have to learn about the history of that here and how it’s evolved and what programs and services are currently available.
It is a situation that COVID-19 and other things have made more prevalent and more exposed.
Because this is not a thing that happened overnight, you can’t expect to fix it overnight.
The roots of the problem go deeper than the surface of it.
If we want to fix this problem for the long term, we have to start addressing the roots of it.
Reporter: Given the doctor shortage, do you have any ideas as to what can be done to bring more doctors up to the Yukon?
Ranade: There’s some good evidence that talks about when people train in an area, when they can see themselves practising there, when they’ve met people in an area, [then] they’re more likely to stay.
Places that have tried to recruit physicians have [tried] for a long time [such as] remote parts of Ontario [and] remote parts of the north. It’s hard to bring people to this place.
I’ve come here and I’ve started to just love it, right?
It’s actually bringing people to the community and letting them see it for themselves, and having them trained in the community so that they understand what the system is like.
Building those systems that can enable people to train and learn here may help to have more people stay.
Reporter: How does it feel to be dropped into a new territory during a pandemic and with all this going on?
Ranade: There’s a lot to do and a lot to learn.
One of the things that we know is that local knowledge helps a lot because it helps you to figure out the context of what’s going on and figure out what are some of the ways in which the responses can be the most achievable or the most feasible.
I’m still learning a lot of what local knowledge is needed in order to do that.
Right now I’m focusing on offering a public health perspective on the problems that are at hand [and] learning what I need to learn about the Yukon and all of its different communities in order to be more effective as I go forward.
Disclosure: This interview has been edited for space.
Contact Dana Hatherly at email@example.com