The Thomson Centre: a building without a plan

It’s been 10 months since the Yukon government promised to open a palliative care unit in the Thomson Centre, yet the Health Department…

It’s been 10 months since the Yukon government promised to open a palliative care unit in the Thomson Centre, yet the Health Department can’t say when it plans to fulfill this Yukon Party election promise.

From the outside, the centre, which adjoins Whitehorse General hospital, resembles a pleasant old cottage — a fitting appearance for a place intended for elderly Yukoners to spend their final days. The setting is intended to feel like home yet offer high levels of medical care.

Inside, most the lights are out. The 44 rooms designed as extended-care units have no patients, and are largely bare of furniture as well.

The occasional bed remains in the patient rooms, but much of the equipment has been carted over to Copper Ridge Place.

Inside a spacious foyer sits a fireplace, complete with stacks of wood waiting to be lit.

Less welcoming is a sign on a red door nearby, which leads to the special care unit.

“Private property,” it reads. “No trespassing.”

However, several rooms are in use.

In one, a woman jogs on a treadmill inside a room full of exercise equipment. In another, a physiotherapist helps limber an elderly woman. Visiting physicians and therapists use the building for spillover from the hospital.

But much of the building sits unused.

Mould grows inside.

The heating and air-circulation systems need to be replaced. And the nurse-call system needs to be upgraded to meet modern standards.

These repairs are necessary before patients are moved into the facility. The work is expected to cost millions of dollars.

When will the mould be scrubbed? When will repairs be made? When will patients live inside the building?

The Health Department prefers not to answer these questions.

It’s a big change from when the Yukon Party came into power with promises of cleaning up the Thomson Centre.

The facility was built under the NDP and was plagued with problems. The roof leaked. The Yukon Party bet they could do better and promised to fix the mess.

It cost more than $1 million to fix the leaky roof. Still, problems persisted.

Now they’d rather not talk about it.

For more than a week, Pat Living, a Health Department spokesperson, has not responded to questions concerning the Thomson Centre.

Health Minister Glenn Hart proved equally evasive in the legislature this month. It takes determination and a heavy dose of caffeine to parse his words. Even then, little is gained.

“Until such time as we determine the need for what’s going to take place in the Thomson Centre, then we’ll make the adjustments with regard to making the mechanical maintenance changes necessary to accommodate that need and make things happen in the Thomson Centre,” said Hart on December 2.

Huh?

On the matter of mould, at least, Hart was direct.

“Work is underway” to clean “some small mould located in an area that is not being utilized right now,” he said.

To find more straight answers, one must go back to May, when the more articulate Brad Cathers held the Health portfolio.

Fixing the Thomson Centre is not a government priority, Cathers said at that time. Instead, it would sink its money elsewhere.

This was a step-down for Cathers, who, in August of 2006, promised to fully open the Thomson Centre within six months.

But Cathers imagined the Thomson Centre would see money for repairs by the end of the fiscal year, to bring the centre “back into full operation.”

Seeing as no such money has been allocated for the Thomson Centre in the government’s supplementary spending bill, it now seems unlikely this will happen.

Both Cathers and Hart have acknowledged the government faces another big obstacle to opening the Thomson Centre: they don’t have enough nurses to staff it.

So the government has focussed on a more modest goal: to re-open a 12-bed wing of Copper Ridge Place by mid-January, Hart said.

Contact John Thompson at

johnt@yukon-news.com.

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