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Whitehorse hospital revamp planned

About 20 years since it last got a facelift, Whitehorse General Hospital is getting a $72-million expansion over the next few years.

About 20 years since it last got a facelift, Whitehorse General Hospital is getting a $72-million expansion over the next few years.

The actual design hasn’t been settled on yet - the official request for qualifications should go out in the next day or two - but a few details were made public yesterday.

Craig Tuton, chair of the hospital corporation’s board of trustees, and corporation CEO Jason Bilsky took questions from the media standing outside the hospital’s east doors, where the expansion will be built.

“We expect the territory’s population to continue to grow. There will be an increased demand, obviously, to many of the services we provide here at WGH,” Tuton said. “The primary need for the expansion is our ability to deliver that quality patient care that we speak about.”

Numbers provided by the hospital corporation say that 17 per cent of the territory’s population will be 65 or older by 2024, compared with 11 per cent today.

The expanded emergency department will include 17 treatment spaces, up from its current 10.

The first floor will be about 2,200 square metres. The second floor will be slightly smaller and include space for about 10 inpatient beds to be added at a later date.

The specific details of that haven’t been finalized yet, but Tuton and Bilsky said it was important to add the space while construction was going on.

“Today, as we sit and as we speak the pressure on us, on our beds, every day is close to that 100 per cent,” Tuton said. “This we felt was the right thing to do. We’ve both said that probably before we complete the expansion, we’re going to be looking at opening up those beds.”

The expanded hospital will have an information systems upgrade and improvements to the hospital’s power infrastructure.

A construction team should be chosen by this time next year, Bilsky said.

After that, construction will take about 30 months. That means it should be operational by late 2017 or early 2018.

Bilsky said the corporation went through a full needs assessment to decide what improvements were needed at the hospital.

“That needs assessment includes both a very in depth look at the population as well as the service delivery needs,” he said. “Meaning, where’s our population going - looking at the future not just looking at today - but also what types of care are we providing, and how best can we provide that care.”

Last year Canada’s auditor general slammed the Yukon government and the hospital corporation for poor planning and mismanagement of the hospital projects in Watson Lake and Dawson City.

The biggest criticism came from the fact that there were no needs assessments done for those projects.

Part of the work done in planning the expanded Whitehorse hospital was to look at best practices from other hospitals around the country, Bilsky said.

“Things like lines of sight for caregivers within the facility, infection control, the flow of patients, distance from the ambulance bay into the emergency department,” he said.

“How many trauma beds do we actually have to take care of the demographic? Those are just some of the examples of quality standards we need to improve upon here.”

The $72 million price tag includes the $6.8 million the Yukon government has already earmarked for a new MRI facility - the first one north of 60.

Construction crews have already started working on the equipment’s new temporary home.

The new MRI will mean Yukoners can get tests done in the territory and will reduce wait times, Tuton said.

The rest of the money will be paid in increments from the Yukon government’s existing cash reserve, in each fiscal year from the 2014-15 year until 2017-18, said government cabinet spokesperson Elaine Schiman.

“The detailed breakdown for each budget year remains to be developed and confirmed,” she said.

Schiman said the Yukon Hospital Foundation raised about $2 million towards the project.

Some of the new space in the emergency department will be designed for people with mental health issues. But Bilsky said that doesn’t make Whitehorse General Hospital a psychiatric hospital.

“Yukon Hospital Corporation, as far as mental health goes, it’s about acute care and about stabilization of mental health and being able to appropriately address medical needs of patients that have mental health concerns,” he said.

Contact Ashley Joannou at