The Yukon Party is calling on the territorial government to boost funding for the Yukon Hospital Corporation while the health minister is pointing to a nearly 46 per cent increase from the former government’s 2016-17 budget.
That was the last budget tabled by the Yukon Party government before the party’s defeat in the 2016 territorial elections.
“Between the 2016-17 budget year and 2023-24 — the one we are about to see the opposition vote against — the operating funding has increased from $64.2 million to $93.6 million, which is an increase of 45.8 per cent,” Health and Social Services Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee told the Yukon Legislative Assembly on March 23.
Yukon Party MLA for Lake Laberge Brad Cathers, who is the party’s health critic, questioned McPhee on money for hospitals.
Cathers referred to the hospital corporation’s Jan. 25 announcement about reducing the number of scheduled elective surgeries from Feb. 13 to March 31 due to staff shortages.
“Will the Yukon government commit to supporting Yukon hospitals getting back to full staff levels and to working with them on expanding the capacity of surgical services so that Yukoners do not have to face long delays waiting for surgery?” he asked.
In response, McPhee said the Yukon government works with the hospital corporation to ensure core funding needs are met.
“It is something that the member opposite refuses to understand, but, certainly, it is the primary work that we do to make sure that core funding needs are met,” she said.
“We will continue to work with the Yukon Hospital Corporation to identify their needs and to ensure that we are providing the services and the supports to Yukoners to access safe and excellent hospital care.”
Cathers suggested the budget doesn’t reflect the government’s “talking points.” He added that the hospital corporation also limited and postponed surgeries in summer 2022 due to staffing issues.
“These delays directly affect Yukoners waiting for surgery and require action, not just words from this government,” he said.
“What is the government doing to help our hospitals address the backlog of surgeries and reduce the wait times for surgeries going forward?”
“I think it is a disservice to Yukoners to exaggerate for the purpose of political reasons and, quite frankly, that is exactly what is happening here,” she said.
“We have a very close working relationship with the Yukon Hospital Corporation, and there is often not a predictable number of people accessing services at the hospital. Of course, that is a growing issue.”
McPhee said the hospital corporation is committed to “maintaining safe and quality care, with minimal service disruptions, in an environment with a local, national and global health care shortage of health care providers.”
Cathers pressed on.
“Will the minister commit to a timeline for providing Yukon hospitals with the money that they need to cover the multimillion-dollar funding shortfall this fiscal year? Mr. Speaker, talk is cheap,” he said.
“Talk is cheap and, quite frankly, giving Yukoners incorrect information is a disservice to them,” she said.
McPhee noted Yukon government funding for the hospital corporation went up from 2016-17 to 2023-24.
“This funding increase has supported the hospital’s core funding needs, as well as the development of new programs and services that serve Yukoners,” she said.
“We will continue to work with them for the benefit of Yukon citizens.”
According to the hospital corporation’s consolidated financial statements, basic and other funding was $67 million in 2016-17 from the Yukon government.
The News reached out to the Yukon Hospital Corporation to ask if the corporation is seeking more funding from the territorial government.
James Low, a spokesperson for the hospital corporation, said the hospital corporation works with the Yukon government and its Health and Social Services department on funding needs, be it new financial pressures on core operations or supporting the development of hospital programs or services.
Low said all of about 150 scheduled surgeries deferred from Feb. 13 to March 31 have been rebooked.
The impact on wait times varies.
“On average, wait times have increased by about one week as a result of this service reduction, recognizing that any increase to the time a patient waits for a surgery does create some uncertainty and frustration from a delay in care,” Low said.
“It’s important to note that during this period, the hospital continued to offer elective schedule procedures (just at a reduced number) as well as support all emergency cases.”
Low said the Whitehorse General Hospital has 13 full-time equivalent operating room registered nurse positions who work in surgical services and operating rooms. At the beginning of the unplanned service reduction, about half of these positions were vacant. He said many of these positions have been filled over the past several weeks.
“We continue to focus on short- and long-term staffing strategies to ensure the safety and continuity of services,” Low said.
Contact Dana Hatherly at firstname.lastname@example.org