Watson Lake shell is cracked again

Plans to turn a partially finished shell of a building into Watson Lake's new hospital are now being reconsidered. The $4.

Plans to turn a partially finished shell of a building into Watson Lake’s new hospital are now being reconsidered.

The $4.8-million shell was originally meant to be a long-term care facility for the elderly, which would have complemented the town’s existing hospital, which was to be renovated.

But midway through that work, the government realized the renovations would cost more than building a new hospital.

So Premier Dennis Fentie announced in late summer 2008 the shell would be transformed into a new, $25-million hospital.

An architect is currently drafting the plans.

But whether the shell is even an appropriate location for a hospital remains undecided, said hospital board chair Craig Tuton.

The scheme is currently being studied to determine whether the shell can meet the community’s health needs.

Vancouver-based Resource Planning Group Inc. is conducting the study, said Tuton. The report should be ready by early summer.

Yukon Hospital Corp. quietly assumed control over Watson Lake’s cottage hospital on March 1.

The deal, finalized February 27 and lasting 13 months, gives the corporation management authority over the hospital, although its health workers will remain government employees.

The short-term deal is meant to give the corporation time to decide whether it wants permanent control over the facility, said Tuton.

It will also give health workers in the facility time to cool down.

They were never consulted when plans of the transfer first came to light in December. Many weren’t happy.

They worried the corporation would focus on providing overnight acute-care in the 12-bed facility at the expense of community nursing, which they believe is better suited at addressing substance abuse problems in Watson Lake.

There are other concerns. Hospital nurses sometimes share shifts with nurses in the adjacent community health centre. It looks unlikely they can do so if they work for different employers.

“That’s one of the challenges,” said Tuton.

If a permanent deal is struck, health workers may choose to continue working for the government in another health facility or transfer to the hospital corporation, said Tuton.

No jobs will be lost during the transfer, he said.

But the hospital will be run more efficiently under the hospital corporation’s control, said Tuton.

“We’re not government; we’re able to react to situations much more quickly,” he said.

Existing procedures would be borrowed from Whitehorse General Hospital.

“We don’t need to reinvent the wheel; it’s round and it’s rolling perfectly,” said Tuton.

And the facility would offer more than acute care, said Tuton.

One of the corporation’s goals is to bring occupancy up to 75 per cent at the Watson Lake hospital.

“It’s nowhere near that today,” said Tuton.

“We’re not going to achieve that with acute health care.”

But acute-care services will become more important as Yukon’s population ages, said Tuton. And Watson Lake is “situated perfectly” for a new hospital “because it’s at the doorway of the Yukon,” he said.

It’s unlikely that Watson Lake would become an overflow resource if Whitehorse General’s 49 beds became full, said Tuton. Instead, patients will continue to flow in the other direction, with those with serious health complications in Watson Lake being sent to Whitehorse.

The hospital corporation must still decide what level of acute care can reasonably be offered at the facility.

“People in the community would love to be born there and die there. However, it’s not as easy as that,” said Tuton.

The changes will help get the facility “up to hospital standards,” said Health Minister Glenn Hart, who spoke with Tuton during a news conference on Thursday.

Hart declined to say in what way the existing hospital is substandard.

The transfer had nothing to do with the quality of health care offered in Watson Lake, said Tuton.

“Services were provided. Adequate care was given,” he said.

The aging cottage hospital was built in the early 1970s and originally run by Ottawa.

Contact John Thompson at

johnt@yukon-news.com.