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Whitehorse hospital threat triggers first Code Lockdown in institutional history

Client made verbal threat toward specific group of Whitehorse General Hospital employees on Feb. 16
Whitehorse General Hospital, seen in a file photo, was the site of a threat against a group of hospital staff on Feb. 16. (Yukon News/File)

A recent threat triggered the Whitehorse General Hospital to call a Code Lockdown for the first time in its institutional history, according to the Yukon Hospital Corporation.

Yukon Hospitals posted about temporarily heightened security measures as a result of a threat on its Facebook page last week.

On Feb. 16 a client made a verbal threat that was directed at a specific group of hospital employees and threatened the team with general harm, Yukon Hospitals spokesperson James Low told the News over the phone on Feb. 22.

That prompted the hospital to call a lockdown “out of an abundance of caution” over the hospital’s public announcement system to heighten the level of awareness and ensure all entryways to the building were secured, Low said.

It was more of a partial lockdown, Low said, as opposed to a full lockdown in which no one would be allowed to come and go from the building. In this case, he said, hospital staff knew the individual who had made the threat had already been escorted out of the building.

“Nobody actually recalls this code ever being used,” Low said. “Even though it was more general in nature, we take all threats seriously, so we took immediate, and I would say measured, precaution.”

To maintain access to people needing hospital care, Low said people were redirected to enter through a single entrance.

In a Feb. 22 email statement, Whitehorse RCMP Cst. Carlie McCann said RCMP responded to a call for service at the hospital relating to an individual who had attended the facility and reportedly made threats upon leaving. Based on the investigation, McCann said police do not believe there is a risk to public safety.

“The reported threats were determined to not be criminal in nature, but were concerning,” McCann said.

No one was arrested and police do not anticipate any future charges. In the statement, no further information is being released to protect the privacy of the people involved.

“Police respond to calls on a case-by-case basis, and do keep track of general issues, trends and changes in the community in order to apply policing resources most effectively,” McCann said in the statement. “Whitehorse RCMP works closely with Whitehorse General Hospital in order to ensure safety for staff and patients, as public safety is our top priority.”

Nothing new was put in place as a result of this particular incident, Low said. Security personnel is already posted on site 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and the code system already activates existing policies and actions.

Unrelated to this specific incident, over the past year the hospital has taken steps to enhance security because of “some significant safety issues,” Low said. For example, he said, in the last year a physician and a hospital employee in the secure medical unit were assaulted by patients in their care.

Those changes include a full review of hospital security, increasing security presence and coverage, training on de-escalation and response and integrating security officers into the patient care team.

“We are undertaking a review of this incident as we do with all others to see what further improvements need to be made or lesson learned,” Low said in an email statement after the interview.

Although Yukon Hospitals was unable to provide data on the number of threatening and violent incidents against hospital staff, there is a self-reporting system for incidents such as slips and falls as well as aggressive behaviour and verbal threats to be reported by staff.

“When incidents are reported, we do review all of them, and investigate where possible, and do follow up and take corrective action as a result, it just means that we don’t really have a great idea as to the true scope and scale of what we’re seeing,” Low said.

While there is no information or reason to believe that this specific incident relates to the pandemic, Low said the temperature has been metaphorically rising since 2020.

“We do see, anecdotally, over the past couple of years, that we have had an increase in patient complaints or individuals with concerns or folks that are unhappy with hospital services,” Low said.

“Our team and the public is, I guess, in a general state of fatigue. A greater number of situations or issues may escalate through like the complaint process that may not otherwise under normal circumstances.”

That means front-line workers bear the brunt of the load when it comes to receiving these issues and managing situations on a day-to-day basis.

“This is really unfortunate that aggressive or threatening behaviors has become far too common of an experience for health-care workers across Canada,” Low said.

“Fortunately, something of this level or scale is rare,” he said about the situation in the Yukon.

Contact Dana Hatherly at

Dana Hatherly

About the Author: Dana Hatherly

I’m the legislative reporter for the Yukon News.
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