Yukon Medical Association defines health care agenda

All three political parties are pledging to recruit and retain health-care professionals. But there’s much more to improving health care than…

All three political parties are pledging to recruit and retain health-care professionals.

But there’s much more to improving health care than hiring more workers, according to the Yukon Medical Association.

Hiring more health-care workers will simply tax infrastructure and support services that are already failing to meet Yukoners’ needs, association president Dr. Rao Tadepalli said in a release.

There are several specific issues that are keeping Yukoners from accessing health care, said Tadepalli in a release issued this week.

The distance people must travel to access health services topped his list.

“The recruitment of family physicians and specialists to the territory requires that support services and specialty-specific infrastructure be in place to allow new physicians to work effectively in their expanded roles,” said Tadepalli.

The Yukon Party is building a multi-level care facility in Premier Dennis Fentie’s Watson Lake riding, but a facility promised for Dawson City stalled at the design stage.

And, on Wednesday, the Yukon Party promised to build a collaborative primary health-care facility in Whitehorse — cribbing a promise the Liberals made last week that Fentie said they poached from the Yukon Registered Nurses Association.

The money is available in the Territorial Health Access Fund, said Fentie.

Such a facility could include a mental-health component, said Colleen Wirth, the Liberal candidate and registered nurse who announced the Liberal plans.

And, in fact, psychiatric services are the association’s second priority.

“Whitehorse General Hospital has one observation room that exists on a general medical ward,” said Tadepalli.

“This significantly limits the safe and effective assessment, support and treatment of our acute mentally ill patients.

“Stabilized mental health patients requiring ongoing care are presently occupying acute care hospital beds, which are in significant short supply.”

Then there’s the question of substance abuse.

The territory’s only alcohol and drug treatment facility — the Sarah Steele building located in downtown Whitehorse — is not staffed with medical personnel.

“The emergency room at Whitehorse General Hospital has become the default assessment and treatment facility for persons requiring this service,” said Tadepalli.

“This is adding more work to an already over-utilized emergency department and is a disservice to individuals required to wait several hours in a busy ER for assistance with their substance abuse problems.”

So, where do the parties stand?

Detoxification facilities could be worked into the Liberal and Yukon Party’s promised care facility, though neither party will commit to specific programming before consulting with the medical community.

The New Democrats are focused on prevention of substance abuse, with initiatives such as a territory-wide ban on smoking in public buildings.

Five per cent of the Health and Social Services budget should be devoted to malady prevention, said NDP leader Todd Hardy.

Street drugs and abuses of prescription medication are having a significant impact on the health of individuals and communities in the Yukon, said Tadepalli.

“A co-ordinated effort among organizations and governments is required to address these problems, including education and intervention strategies,” he said.

The three parties joined together, reluctantly, to pass a substance abuse action plan and safer communities legislation during the spring session of the legislative assembly.

Throughout 2005 and 2006 the NDP introduced both initiatives.

The Yukon Party adopted them as policy and they were unanimously passed in the legislature.

But Tadepalli is recommending a regional “Pharmacare network” to track medications and intercept people who go “doctor-shopping” for prescription drugs to abuse or sell on the street.

Although the Liberals like the idea, the cost of establishing a computer network to track prescription drugs would be extensive and it is not part of the party’s election platform, said campaign manager Mike Travill.

“It would be a large financial obligation,” Travill said Thursday.

“That’s an investigation we’d be willing to undertake in the future.”

The NDP already promised on the floor of the Yukon legislature to implement a pharmacare network.

One of the major groups of users of prescription medication — senior citizens — is also lacking long-term placement options.

“The lack of long-term placement options for our seniors who are unable to live independently is an immediate and growing concern,” said Tadepalli.

“At times, upwards of 50 per cent of our acute care hospital beds are occupied by seniors awaiting proper long-term placement.”

The Yukon Party has promised to open 44 beds in the Thomson Centre in Whitehorse for continuing care.

The Liberals and NDP have said they’d do the same, and quicker than the four years it took the Yukon Party to order renovations and decontamination after black mould was found inside the centre.

Ottawa recently ponied up $1.8 million to build six units of seniors’ housing in Haines Junction.

And all three parties support such facilities.

The Yukon Party and the NDP have also vowed more funding for home care, but the Liberals plan to create a “premier’s council on seniors and elders issues.”

Finally, the medical association wants to see palliative care for the terminally ill.

“To meet the needs of these patients a proper facility is paramount and our community continues to wait for these promised services,” said Tadepalli.

Palliative care would probably be offered at the Thomson Centre once it reopens, regardless of who forms government.