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Territory responds to hospital corp. audit

The Yukon Hospital Corporation and the Department of Health and Social Services have issued a mea culpa in response to the auditor general's performance report on the hospital construction projects in Dawson City and Watson Lake.

The Yukon Hospital Corporation and the Department of Health and Social Services have issued a mea culpa in response to the auditor general’s performance report on the hospital construction projects in Dawson City and Watson Lake.

“Obviously we realize there were some miscalculations,” said Health and Social Services minister Doug Graham at a press conference on Wednesday.

“There was a planning process ... and perhaps it just wasn’t as good as it should have been, and perhaps that’s the department’s fault too for not becoming involved in some manner earlier in the process,” said Graham.

The auditor general’s report, issued on Tuesday, slammed the hospital corporation and government for poor planning and a lack of documentation on the construction projects for both hospitals. Without conducting a needs assessment, there is no way for the hospital corporation to demonstrate that the hospitals were actually needed in the first place, the report states.

Graham said that the original plans for both hospitals came from the previous Yukon Party government, so it is difficult for him to say with certainty whether that planning process was done properly at the time.

But the government and the hospital corporation will work more closely to make sure past mistakes are not repeated, said Graham.

“I don’t know what the circumstances were back then, but I know that during talks we’ve had about renovations to the current (Whitehorse) hospital, (hospital corporation CEO Jason Bilsky) and the hospital administration and the board have been just wonderful in saying, ‘This is why we need this particular thing and this is why we need it at this time,’ so perhaps they’ve already learned something from what happened in Dawson and Watson Lake,” Graham said.

Both the hospital corporation and the department have accepted the report’s recommendations. Among the actions to be taken is an assessment to ensure that the services delivered at the new hospitals meet community needs in the most cost-effective way.

“We appreciate the work that the (auditor general) has done in presenting these findings,” said Bilsky.

“We believe that the report ... highlights the need for the hospital corporation and the government to collaborate more closely going forward, continually assessing and improving health-care delivery in the Yukon,” added Bilsky.

The report also questioned the government and the hospital corporation’s plans to staff both new buildings.

While finding doctors for the Watson Lake hospital is an ongoing challenge, Graham said he feels that the Dawson City hospital already has all the doctors it needs.

“That’s always a huge concern with us. We’ve had difficulties, especially in Watson Lake, hiring or attracting doctors. In Dawson City, the clinic is, as far as I’m aware, fully staffed now.

“Watson Lake is an ongoing problem, but ... we are in the process of going through the international graduate recruitment. We have five excellent people going through the process,” he said.

As for the nursing and support staff, Bilsky said that Watson Lake is in a good position because the current hospital there has been running with enough support staff, and the corporation is close to securing all the staff needed for the Dawson City hospital.

Both hospital projects are running behind schedule and over budget. Dowland Contracting, the general contractor on both jobs, is in default for not paying its subcontractors, and Bilsky could offer no assurance that those projects will not face further delays.

“I can’t give you any assurance, to be frank, about cost overruns and delays. I can tell you that we’re working very closely with the current contractor that is in default, with the contract that we have. We’re working very closely with the bonding company and the design engineers and potential new general contractors to make sure that we’re mitigating any financial harm that we may take on or any delays that may happen in construction.

“Both facilities are greater than 90 per cent complete. Watson Lake, I’d like to say that there is minimal impact there. Dawson, is a little bit further behind and we’re working very hard to mitigate any impact that we may have,” Bilsky said.

Bilsky said he still expects Watson Lake’s hospital to be open by May, but that in Dawson City there could be up to two more months’ delay, pushing the completion date for that building to sometime in July.

“Take that with a little bit of a grain of salt, because it really depends on the bonding company and how they decide to remedy the situation,” said Bilsky.

Contact Jesse Winter at