The Whitehorse hospital is seen in 2021. (John Tonin/Yukon News file)

The Whitehorse hospital is seen in 2021. (John Tonin/Yukon News file)

Whitehorse hospital postponing scheduled surgeries

At least 200 surgeries are being deferred at the Whitehorse General Hospital this month due to staffing issues.

The hospital is short-staffed in the sterile processing department — meaning there aren’t enough people to clean surgery instruments and crew equipment, according to Yukon Hospital Corp. director James Low.

The department is expecting to be “in a better place” by mid-August, Low said. In the meantime, scheduled surgeries are delayed approximately four weeks.

People waiting for those surgeries have been contacted, but not every patient will receive a rebooking date immediately upon their surgery’s deferral.

“We do appreciate the fact that this is really inconvenient for folks … We appreciate the inconvenience and the uncertainty that it creates as they wait for a new date,” Low said.

Low is reminding Yukoners to be kind to the staff communicating delays.

Examples of rescheduled surgeries include hernia, gallbladder, colon and cataract procedures. Emergency procedures are still happening within a regular timeframe, Low said.

The hospital is also in a period of extreme busyness outside that staffing crunch. The number of available inpatient beds is hovering between few and none, according to the Yukon Hospitals’ COVID-19 tracker. According to Low, the full hospital is unrelated to COVID-19.

“We’re just busy and there’s really no one single thing that’s driving our busyness,” he said. “I couldn’t even speculate … other than it’s summer, and there’s likely more people in the territory.”

Two patients have been temporarily transferred from Whitehorse to the Watson Lake hospital to alleviate the pressure.

The crunch mainly comes from an increase in patients needing longer-term care, as opposed to emergency care, Low explained. The increased in-patient traffic falls on the hospital’s generally stretched resources.

“Historically, [Whitehorse General Hospital] in particular has been challenged from an occupancy level,” Low said. “In general, I won’t say occupancy has been good. But we always go through peaks and valleys.”

While the Whitehorse hospital isn’t ringing alarms on staffing shortages in other departments, Low also conceded that the hospital is “not immune” to the nation-wide staffing shortage in all health-care sectors.

He added that the Whitehorse hospital also sees generally high traffic in the emergency room – about 35,000 visits per year. Scaled to population, that would equate to nearly every Yukon resident visiting the emergency room once.

Contact Gabrielle Plonka at