Whitehorse General Hospital. (Yukon News file)

Whitehorse General Hospital. (Yukon News file)

Yukon’s vaccine mandate will only affect 14 hospital staff: YHC

The hospital corporation discussed the nurse shortage and vaccine mandate in the legislature on Nov. 17

Officials with the Yukon Hospital Corporation say the upcoming vaccination requirement shouldn’t majorly impact services.

“At this point, we’re not expecting any service disruption or issues with continuity of service,” Jason Bilsky, the hospital corporation’s CEO, told the Yukon legislature on Nov. 16. “The people who are impacted — a small handful of our employee base, staff, and team — are spread throughout the system.”

Bilsky along with Al Lucier, chair of YHC’s board, appeared as witnesses in the legislature to speak about the territory’s hospitals.

Bilsky emphasized the importance of vaccinations for staff, noting the public needs to feel safe coming to hospitals and that means having confidence that YHC is doing all it can to keep patients safe.

“Unvaccinated staff and physicians pose a risk to patients, visitors, volunteers, other staff and physicians, along with themselves,” he said. “This risk is just one that we are not prepared to accept. Therefore, we must ensure that vaccination is a condition of employment and/or a condition of being in a privileged position. This is all about ensuring the continuity of services to the greatest possible extent and public confidence in our hospital systems.”

In spring 2021, when vaccinations were first available, it was estimated about 95 per cent of hospital staff and physicians received the first vaccination.

Booster shots are now available to hospital staff and front-line health care workers throughout the territory.

“We believe that we can probably immunize all those who require booster shots — or the majority — this week,” Bilsky said, noting the opportunity for greater immunization and in minimizing disruption by providing the boosters in YHC’s workplaces.

“It also builds confidence within our workforce basically in terms of confidence in what we’re doing and for morale,” he said. “It is all geared toward making sure that we can continue to offer safe and excellent hospital care without service disruption because people are offline for various reasons related to COVID.”

As the hospital moves to mandatory vaccination for employees, it’s expected by the end of the month when first shots are required, all privileged staff will be fully vaccinated.

Of the 14 staff impacted by mandatory vaccination, half are permanent employees while the other half are casual or temporary.

Speaking to COVID-19, Bilsky approximated 10 or fewer hospitalized cases at the beginning of the pandemic. It was in June, when an outbreak happened, that hospitals saw significantly more. Approximately 60 people were hospitalized over the summer. That number has decreased with about nine COVID-19 patients being admitted.

Specifically speaking to the ICU unit of four beds, Bilsky told the legislature the hospital has seen “between two and four” positive patients in the ICU.

“What occurs when we see three COVID-positive patients in the ICU due to it being an isolated negative pressure area, it becomes basically COVID-only,” Bilsky said.

“That means that we see pressures on our critical care areas of the hospital — the emergency department and our ICU. It means that non-COVID ICU patients are then cared for in the emergency department, and/or, if necessary, they would have to be moved south to tertiary care centres.”

Bilsky went on to confirm the unit is limited to four beds due to staffing limitations, an issue that he described as a “national” constraint, noting the most recent constraints are “extraordinary.”

“That just means that we are unable to staff a secondary ICU with critical care unit nurses,” he said. “What that means — as I already mentioned — is that all of our critical care unit resources are being deployed into the emergency department and into the current ICU. That is where, essentially, we care for patients who require intensive care right now.”

Bilsky addressed the legislature on a number of other hospital matters such as the new record-keeping system, midwifery and more.

Contact Stephanie Waddell at stephanie.waddell@yukon-news.com