Territory scrambles to offer long term care beds

The Yukon Department of Health and Social Services is looking for spaces to convert into makeshift temporary long-term care facilities, but they're being tight-lipped about any details.

The Yukon Department of Health and Social Services is looking for spaces to convert into makeshift temporary long-term care facilities, but they’re being tight-lipped about any details.

The Yukon government is in the early stages of building a new 150- to 300-bed continuing care facility somewhere in Whitehorse. In the meantime, more than 50 people are sitting on the wait-list to get a bed.

Health spokesperson Pat Living said some of those people are staying at home while others are at Whitehorse General Hospital.

“We are looking at other options within the community,” Living said, but refused to say what possible locations are being considered.

Decisions will be made “in a timely fashion,” she said.

On average, continuing care patients use 15 to 17 of the hospital’s 55 beds, said hospital spokesperson James Low.

Living said health staff meet daily to deal with the bed issue.

Though she wouldn’t give many details about what solutions are being considered, she did say that expanding to the other side of the Thomson Centre is in the mix. Completing the required renovations to get everything up to code would take close to a year, she said.

The Thomson Centre originally opened in 1993 as a continuing care centre. But it has been plagued with water leaks, mould infestations and other problems.

The centre was re-opened in 2011. It was originally scheduled to have 44 beds, but more complications meant that only half of the building could be used for long-term care, with 29 beds, while the rest of the building was used for office space and other purposes.

The NDP Opposition suggested in the legislature on Wednesday that surgeries were being cancelled at the hospital because there are not enough beds available.

“This morning, Dr. Storey, a long-time Yukon surgeon, said there have been numerous occasions where surgeries have had to be cancelled at the last minute due to lack of bed space,” Health critic Jan Stick said.

“Will the minister now correct the record and tell Yukoners how many surgeries have been cancelled due to a lack of available beds at the Whitehorse General Hospital?”

Health Minister Doug Graham replied that only four surgeries have had to be cancelled so far this year.

“Three of those four cancellations were for patient-related reasons and not because a bed was not available.”

Low, the hospital corporation’s spokesman, confirmed the number. He said three of the four surgeries have been rescheduled, all within three weeks or less of their original date. The fourth hasn’t been rescheduled yet.

Whitehorse General Hospital does 2,500 to 3,000 surgeries a year, he said.

Stick continued to press the government about bed numbers.

“Dr. Storey, renowned surgeon at Whitehorse General, said that out of the 16 beds set aside for surgery and recovery, only about two are regularly available to over 35,000 people in the Yukon. He says the other 14 beds are usually filled with chronic illness patients or those waiting for long-term care,” she said.

Low said that in most cases hospital beds are not designated for one type of use.

“We utilize the beds in whatever way they need to be utilized at the time, it’s not as though a certain percentage would be dedicated to surgery.”

In the legislature, Graham said these numbers often fluctuate.

“I guess what the member doesn’t seem to understand is that the bed shortage at Whitehorse General Hospital is something that is in constant flux. One day there might be only two beds available in the surgical recovery room and the next day, there might be seven or eight,” he said.

Contact Ashley Joannou at

ashleyj@yukon-news.com

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