While Yukon hospitals have moved toward and gone beyond pre-pandemic levels, at no point in the past year have hospitals in the territory run out of beds, according to the Yukon Hospital Corporation.
MLAs questioned witnesses Allan Lucier, chair of the Yukon Hospital Corporation board of trustees, and Jason Bilsky, CEO of the hospital corp., in the Yukon Legislative Assembly on Nov. 22.
“We are very rarely over capacity, although it may spike at certain points of time in the day, and that’s when we employ extraordinary efforts to continue to move patients on,” Bilksy said in response to a question from NDP MLA for Vuntut Gwitchin Annie Blake.
“There are no points in time when we were overcapacity — meaning over 100 per cent — over the past year.”
Yukon Party MLA for Lake Laberge Brad Cathers prompted the witnesses on whether the territory has seen an increase in people requiring hospitalization as a result of respiratory illnesses circulating this fall.
Bilsky could not comment on whether this has been an abnormal year for respiratory illnesses.
“I can tell you that there is continuous, I would say, upward pressure on bed occupancy and those being seen in the [emergency department], and we are expecting, probably, a higher average number of respiratory illnesses, including COVID-19, as we move forward,” Bilsky said.
“By and large, there is, I would say, great efforts to make sure that… patients are identified and moved within the system and are receiving the appropriate care, at the appropriate time, to allow for the bed capacity in the hospital to be managed.”
Cathers asked how many overall emergency room visits could have been avoided if the patient had a family doctor.
Bilsky said emergency department visits have been steadily rising, with the exception of a period of time during the COVID-19 pandemic when a dip occurred, which he attributed to people avoiding seeking care at that time.
Bilsky cited a growing population, aging demographics and a lack of access to other forms of care as the reasons behind the increasing number of people visiting emergency departments.
However, he said, the average total length of stay in the emergency department is “exceptionally low” compared to the rest of the country.
“On average, the emergency department sees about 1,000 visits per month that register without a family care provider, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that they shouldn’t be seeking care in the emergency department,” Bilsky said.
“It really depends on what they are presenting for.”
Bilsky said on average approximately five to 10 per cent of emergency room visits could have been dealt with elsewhere.
Cathers asked the witnesses to remark on notable cost drivers on the corporation.
Lucier said the largest pressure is filling nurse vacancies.
When all other options are exhausted, Lucier said, that leaves the hospitals to rely on a handful of contracts with agency services to provide nursing, which comes at a higher cost.
“In many cases, it is twice the price or more of a collective agreement employee. That doesn’t mean that the individual is getting paid that, but it’s a finder fee for the agencies to provide those services,” Lucier said.
Lucier said the corporation has short-term ways of filling those openings, but the long-term answer requires “ingenuity” to get full-time employees.
Lucier noted other pressures are tied to inflation related to fuel, food and medical supplies.
Bilsky added that the increased volume, complexity of service and standards of care are additional pressures.
“I think it’s no secret to anybody that Canada is in the midst of an unprecedented health human resource challenge — in the Yukon, our hospitals are not immune,” Bilsky said in response to Cather’s question about recruitment and retention.
“Hospital staffing is becoming increasingly complex. There were pre-existing challenges prior to COVID-19, and those have continued, possibly exacerbated by the pandemic.”
Supporting local nurse education and potential recruitment of international nurses, carrying out strategies to recruit new specialty staff to the corporation, including the use of financial incentives to attract short-term contract and permanent staff, and proactive marketing recruitment and outreach are some strategies outlined by Bilsky that he said the Yukon government and health partners are working on to get more human resources.
Cathers also went back and forth with the witnesses about government funding.
On Nov. 23, Cathers put forward a motion calling for the Yukon government to “ensure that our hospitals have the financial resources they need by taking action including: providing the Yukon Hospital Corporation additional funding this fiscal year to compensate for the impact of inflation; and providing the Yukon Hospital Corporation additional funding this fiscal year to address increased costs associated with the pandemic.”
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