Tuton makes the pitch for his ad blitz

Craig Tuton is sorry he offended Yukoners with his foul-mouthed refusal to provide the cost of the Yukon Hospital Corporation's ongoing advertisement blitz. "I apologize," the chair of the hospital corporation told the legislature yesterday."

Craig Tuton is sorry he offended Yukoners with his foul-mouthed refusal to provide the cost of the Yukon Hospital Corporation’s ongoing advertisement blitz.

“I apologize,” the chair of the hospital corporation told the legislature yesterday. “It was also regrettable the way that it was reported.”

But Tuton insisted the public relations campaign is necessary and a good use of public money.

“We can’t rely on others to provide this information for us and, quite frankly, it’s not appropriate for others to do that. We must be responsible for getting that message out.”

The campaign asserts the Yukon Party government’s controversial decision to build new hospitals in Watson Lake and Dawson City with $50 million in borrowed money is a smart investment in Yukon’s future.

Advertisements have been placed on air, in newspapers and on popular websites such as Facebook. The 10-week campaign started March 27 and will continue until June 5.

“The cost is very small – insignificant – about the cost of a cup of coffee for a Yukoner per day,” said Tuton. “It’s about $2.50 a day – a cost of about $80,000 over that period.

“To us, it’s a dollar well-spent which is going to inform Yukoners clearly about what they can expect in health care.

“We think it’s the absolutely right thing to do.”

Not everyone agrees. Former Yukon MP Audrey McLaughlin, for one, states in a letter to the editor that she plans to stop donating to the hospital corporation. (See page 10)

She questions why a territory with a population of 34,000 needs three acute-care hospitals and worries the new facilities will lead to exorbitant staffing costs.

She’d like to see hard numbers that provide a justification for the new facilities, starting with the operating cost of the new hospitals.

“No argument has been convincingly presented that this is the best expenditure of funds,” she wrote.

The corporation is also conducting a public opinion poll, online and by phone, which asks respondents if they agree with plans to build the new facilities and to borrow money to do so.

“Perhaps, if there are plans for 2011 or 2012, it might be helpful to ask the questions in advance,” Liberal Leader Mitchell suggested drily, “rather than announcing the decisions and then asking the questions afterwards.”

Similarly, the entire planning process for the new facilities appears to have been done “backward,” said Mitchell, starting with the Yukon Party pledge to build new medical facilities in Watson Lake and Dawson City.

Tuton referred to a study conducted by consultants in early 2009 that forecasted the medical needs of residents in the areas surrounding both communities.

But it appears as if building hospitals was always a foregone conclusion. If alternative plans were ever considered, they weren’t provided to Yukon News in an access-to-information request.

Both the NDP and Liberals agree both Dawson City and Watson Lake need to have their aging medical facilities replaced, but they question whether 24-hour acute-care hospitals are the right fit.

Tuton was asked to provide operating costs for the new facilities. Instead, he gave projected costs for the existing Watson Lake cottage hospital. Those costs will grow to $4.06 million this year, he said.

But he has earlier indicated the staffing costs for the new facilities will double or treble compared to the existing facilities, adding an additional several million to the territory’s public expenses.

Tuton insisted this will offer a net savings by cutting down on the need to send rural residents to Whitehorse General Hospital. “The trends are very clear. The Yukon is growing, and the demands for health-care services are increasing.”

And as the population greys, demand will grow for operations such as cataract removals and knee surgeries, he said.

Besides, “these are not just hospitals,” said Tuton. “These are going to be community health centres.”

Only certain operations would be performed at the new facilities. For example, rural residents won’t be able to give birth in the new hospitals in the foreseeable future, said CEO Joe MacGillivray. “We don’t envision those programs being offered in the near future,” he said.

But the hospitals would eventually receive ultrasound machines, said MacGillivray.

The new hospitals would be staffed by doctors, nurses, X-ray and lab technicians and joint occupational-physiotherapists, said MacGillivray.

MacGillivray also disclosed the interest rate to be paid on the $17-million loan undertaken to build the new staff residence being erected beside Whitehorse General Hospital.

It will be a fixed rate

of 5.23 per cent, to be paid with an annual $1.5 million transfer from the territorial government. The first payment will be made in January of 2011. The last will be made in March of 2028.

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