There are several problems at Whitehorse General Hospital but none are new, said Dr. Rao Tadepalli of the Yukon Medical Association.
Tadepalli has been working in the Yukon for seven years.
“I wouldn’t say that things have gotten worse,” he said last week.
“Things are better, they’ve improved.”
Last year the problem was with the radiology department, he said.
Now the hospital has a good complement of staff in that department.
“But is there a doctor shortage? The answer is yes,” said Tadepalli.
“We don’t have a pediatrician right now.”
The hospital’s doctors are coping with the lack of a pediatrician, but it is a strain on the system.
“In the Yukon it doesn’t take much because we don’t really have 10 people working; you only need one doctor to leave and you end up in a shortage,” said Tadepalli.
“Every month there are three or four phone calls from the chief of staff or the acting chief of staff saying, ‘the hospital is full please try whatever you can do to get beds.’”
Finding long-term beds has been a long-term problem.
A year ago Tadepalli spoke out about the number of long-term patients taking up hospital beds.
Health and Social Services Minister Brad Cathers announced that the government would open a new wing at Copper Ridge Place.
This wing, with 12 new long-term-care beds was opened in November.
The wing was closed three months later because the territory was unable to find additional nurses.
Psychiatric care has been another recurring problem.
“We only have one psychiatric room, which is placed between other rooms,” said Tadepalli.
“It is a problem.”
The lack of a psychiatric ward has led to assaults on staff, said Tadepalli.
“A nurse being assaulted has occurred,” he said.
“It was not serious, but definitely from time to time we do deal with dangerous situations.”
More security and a psychiatric unit would help the situation and the hospital is looking into that.
It is a concern that the Thomson Centre hasn’t opened, said Tadepalli.
“If it opens up it would help the situation.”
The centre, which has been closed for the past five years, would provide both long-term care and a psychiatric unit as well as palliative care beds.
On August 24, 2006, Cathers announced that the centre would be reopening within six months.
However, after this announcement mould was discovered in the centre and the reopening was delayed indefinitely.
If the centre is opened, however, the territory will face the same problem that it did at Copper Ridge Place — finding new doctors and nurses.
Bad resident facilities may be one of the reasons the Yukon is having trouble attracting health professionals, said Tadepalli.
“I think you should take a tour of where we house our visiting health professionals and specialists,” he said.
“That’s called the gulag or the rat hole — it’s poor housing.”
Comparatively poor benefits are another problem.
“We are in a competitive world. There are other provinces, oil-rich provinces that are competing against us,” he said.
“A month does not go by where recruiting agencies don’t contact us.”
Many doctors working in the Yukon are doing so for the lifestyle not money.
So work conditions at the hospital are very important, said Tadepalli.
“Doctors want to come to work where patients appreciate the work you do, the colleges you work with are enjoying the work and it’s a fulfillment.”
There’s a huge alcohol and drug problem in the city of Whitehorse said Tadepalli.
“There are people that are coming here everyday for the same problem,” he said.
“There are some patients that take an ambulance ride 300 times in a year — some people come twice a day.”
A pharmacy network may cut down on the patients who misuse the system to get prescription drugs.
And synchronizing the technology used in the hospital with local clinics would save a lot of time that physicians waste re-transcribing patient information.
“It’s a huge problem — Alcohol, drugs and psychiatric care,” said Tadepalli.
“The hospital system can only do so much.”