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Whitehorse hospital defers surgeries due to staffing challenges

About 150 scheduled surgeries are being deferred
The Yukon’sorthepedic care team is seen in November 2021. From left to right are registered nurses Dave Waldron, Kathleen Chapman, as well as Dr. Kathleen Dalinghaus and Dr. Scott Westberg. (Submitted)

Major staffing challenges at Whitehorse General Hospital are causing a drastic reduction in scheduled surgery capacity in February and March.

About 150 scheduled surgeries are being deferred, according to James Low, a spokesperson for the Yukon Hospital Corporation.

On Jan. 25, the hospital tweeted that surgeries will be reduced between Feb. 13 and March 31 “despite our best efforts to avoid an impact to services.”

Low said similar to other health providers and hospitals across Canada, the Yukon is experiencing the health human resource challenge.

“In this specific circumstance, we were unable to secure adequate staffing to maintain usual service volumes,” he said. “That said, we will continue with scheduled (elective) surgeries (at a reduced number) and respond to all emergency/urgent cases as needed.”

Low said the reduced capacity “is roughly a third of our typical volume of these types of procedures.”

In the meantime, the hospital is prioritizing surgeries based on urgency. “This is a complex concept to explain, but in the simplest terms, a physician will assess if a patient can safely wait,” he said.

Within the group of nurses who work directly in the operating rooms, the hospital currently has about 13 vacancies, Low said.

“There is a national shortage of nurses, and the issue is much more acute within specialized practice such as surgical/operating room nurses,” he said.

A quick search on the hospital’s job board shows that, as of Jan. 26, there are 58 vacancies for various positions with medical/surgical and therapies departments making up a large part of the available positions. Some of the advertised positions include: operating room nurses, health care attendants, laboratory assistants, licensed practical nurses and physiotherapists among others.

The News asked Low if the hospital will send people to Vancouver for surgeries because of the deferrals.

“I can’t speculate,” he said in an email response. “The intent is to reduce scheduled (elective) procedures to a level that we have capacity to continue to perform more urgent ‘electives’ and respond to emergencies.”

Due to the disruptions caused by the surgery delays, Low said people are being notified. “Our booking team is reaching out as we speak to those who are affected. We ask that people do not call the hospital about a surgery scheduled in this time period.”

The hospital said they expect to re-book all of these procedures within an April/May time frame.

“We acknowledge the uncertainty this will cause for many Yukoners awaiting surgery. We want to provide all those affected with as much notice as possible,” according to a statement posted on the hospital’s website.

Contact Patrick Egwu at

Patrick Egwu

About the Author: Patrick Egwu

I’m one of the newest additions at Yukon News where I have been writing about a range of issues — politics, sports, health, environment and other developments in the territory.
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