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Yukon Party fights back over continuing care criticisms

The Yukon government is accusing the territorial NDP and Liberal leaders of "petty politics" around the planned continuing care facility in Whistle Bend.

The Yukon government is accusing the territorial NDP and Liberal leaders of “petty politics” around the planned continuing care facility in Whistle Bend.

In a statement last week, the Yukon Party accused both opposition parties of wanting to cancel the “desperately needed” 150-bed facility.

“They are attempting to alarm seniors with false information,” Premier Darrell Pasloski said in the statement. “It’s one more example of the Opposition’s blatant disregard for the needs of Yukoners.”

But both parties deny they would cancel the project outright.

“I don’t want to cancel it,” said NDP health critic Jan Stick. “I don’t hate seniors.”

But she does want the government to consider other options.

Last month, Stick tabled a motion that called on the government to stop all work on the facility until “meaningful consultations provide evidence of a need for this facility, including its size, location and model of care.”

She said that means going out to the communities and asking municipalities and First Nations what they envision for continuing care.

Stick favours the possibility of building multiple small facilities in some of the communities, which would allow some seniors to age closer to home. But she said she doesn’t know how much that might cost.

“But I think that’s what needs to be explored and that’s what didn’t happen,” she said. “No one said how much would it cost if we built four small ones around the territory and one in Whitehorse. There wasn’t that comparison. We only got the one option.”

In fact, a 2013 report did present the findings of a review of continuing-care facilities in other Canadian jurisdictions. In Ontario and parts of B.C., the report states, care facilities are required to have a minimum of 100 to 125 beds. It also found that the same number of staff is required for a 100-bed facility as for a 125- or 150-bed facility, suggesting that larger facilities are more cost-effective.

However, B.C.‘s Northern Health Authority was apparently interested in building smaller facilities, because a 125-bed facility in sparsely populated northern B.C. “would create a large catchment area thereby causing people on the fringes untenable inconvenience in travel times.”

Stick also said the government should look more closely at assisted care, which could lighten some of the demand for continuing care beds.

For his part, Liberal Leader Sandy Silver was hesitant to suggest any concrete alternatives to the Whistle Bend facility.

He said he wanted elders to be able to stay in their communities, but also said he wasn’t advocating the construction of several smaller facilities.

He mostly criticized the government for coming up with the Whistle Bend project “out of the blue.”

The government’s statement comes after months of criticism of the facility from both opposition parties and members of the public.

In July, the results of an access-to-information request showed that the location was chosen despite a high-ranking health official’s warning that building a large facility in the sparsely populated Whistle Bend community would be a “nightmare.”

In September, the NDP hosted a town hall for people to voice their opinions about the 150-bed facility. The party says a survey conducted during the event found that 87 per cent of respondents oppose or have concerns about the Whistle Bend plan.

Despite this, the government has remained adamant that the facility will be built as planned.

“I want to be perfectly clear; this government is proceeding with the construction of the 150-bed continuing care facility in Whistle Bend. We will not halt the project,” Health Minister Mike Nixon said in the assembly on Nov. 25.

“If the Opposition wants to cancel this facility, then I want them to go to the homes of the families trying to support loved ones, look them in the eyes and tell them why they aren’t important enough to warrant this facility,” Nixon said in last week’s statement.

Last week, the government announced it has chosen PCL Constructors Westcoast Inc. to design and build the facility.

Contact Maura Forrest at