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Whitehorse hospital patients shipped to Watson Lake

Health and Social Services Minister Glenn Hart made some unhealthy comments in the legislature yesterday.

Health and Social Services Minister Glenn Hart made some unhealthy comments in the legislature yesterday.

“I hope the member opposite has an accident and then tries to figure out where he’s going to go,” said Hart, responding to a question from New Democrat Steve Cardiff about the lack of continuing care facilities in the territory.

“Obviously, the minister doesn’t wish me well,” Cardiff said afterwards. “If the minister actually had his way, I’d have an accident.”

The sniping stemmed from a legitimate public policy question, which is, why are long-term patients being housed at Whitehorse General Hospital while waiting to be transferred to a continuing-care facility?

The long-term patients take up space usually reserved for acute-care patients at the hospital.

And, over the weekend, two of these long-term care patients had to be medevaced to Watson Lake Hospital.

A third patient was also scheduled to fly to Watson Lake on Monday, but remained in Whitehorse for surgery.

“Ad hoc actions, such as transferring patients between hospitals, is stressful for the patients, for their families, for the staff at the facilities and it is also very expensive,” said Cardiff.

“We had an emergency situation at the hospital last week,” Hart replied. “We took the appropriate action.”

This emergency situation peaked last Friday when the hospital had to house 58 patients.

It only has 49 beds.

The hospital opened up a couple of spare rooms that are not normally used to hold patients, said hospital spokesperson Val Pike on Monday.

It was also able to accommodate a number of people in its same-day surgical unit.

This is the first time that Whitehorse General has had to medevac patients to another facility because of overcrowding, said Pike.

“But we may have to do it again in the future.”

Of the 58 patients who spent the night at the hospital on Friday, eight were waiting for placement at either Macaulay Lodge or Copper Ridge Place.

Whitehorse General Hospital’s capacity problems could have been predicted, said Cardiff.

He faulted the territory for lacking a “comprehensive plan” to provide care to elderly patients suffering from chronic health problems.

As a result, patients with long-term needs - such as physiotherapy, counselling and rehabilitation - are plugging up the hospital, which is poorly suited to provide these services.

“They’re stuck in the role of warehousing them,” said Cardiff. “There’s an obvious need for more long-term care.”

He questioned why many rooms remain empty in the Thomson Centre, which was built to provide long-term care to the elderly.

“This government has committed nearly $50 million for acute care hospitals in Watson Lake and Dawson City,” said Cardiff.

“It has forgotten about the Thomson Centre, which was supposed to accommodate continuing-care patients.”

The Thomson Centre was built in 1993 and had enough space and beds to accommodate up to 48 long-term patients.

But the facility was shuttered in 2002 when mould was discovered.

Millions of dollars were spent fixing the building, but mould was found again three years ago.

Reopening the Thompson centre would not resolve the hospital’s immediate overcrowding issues, said Pike.

“There’s no beds, there’s no staff, that kind of thing.”

The hospital has also hired a few agency nurses from BC to help it get through this crunch.

The territory uses agency nurses on a fairly regular basis to help get through some tight spots and cover when Yukon nurses need a break, said Pike.

But agency nurses are more expensive than regular nurses.

During the peak last Friday, there was at least one patient with a confirmed case of H1N1 influenza.

Two other patients have since been admitted showing influenza-like symptoms and are being kept in respiratory isolation.

“And we had a specialist here doing surgery, we didn’t want to have to cancel any of those patients,” said Pike.

“So by making this shift, we’ve not had to cancel any services that we normally provide to the public.”

And Pike stressed that this transfer was not going to be forever.

The two long-term patients who were transferred to Watson Lake should be brought back to Whitehorse before the end of the month.

As of Monday night, the hospital had 47 patients, just below its 49-patient capacity.

As for Hart hoping that Cardiff has an accident, Speaker Ted Staffen suggested Hart review his remarks.

“I think the minister used terminology in his reply to the member that he would probably like to retract.”

Hart did not return calls to the News before press time.

Contact Chris Oke at