The Yukon’s health care crisis cannot continue

The government needs to stop reacting in crisis mode and plan for the future

Lillian Nakamura Maguire | Special to the News

We are members of Seniors Action Yukon (SAY), a group of older adults who are concerned about issues related to healthcare, housing, social services and other issues impacting our lives.

We have been following the stories of seniors/elders who have been pressured or forced to move without their informed consent from Whitehorse General Hospital to hospitals in either Dawson City or Watson Lake. This has outraged many of us. We believe it is contrary to a patient’s right to the Yukon Hospital Corporation’s vision statement which calls for “care that is compassionate, timely, culturally appropriate and equitable.”

The plan also states that they will “develop ways to engage patients as partners in their health care journey.” Moving patients without their consent is contrary to this and creates anxiety not only for the patients but also family, which in turn can impact their physical and mental health. We also believe that ethically it is wrong.

We appreciate that on Nov. 9 in the legislative assembly, health minister Pauline Frost said that if the hospital is moving patients “that we will look at ensuring that family members are part of that process” and that care is given in a respectful way. Some patients and family members may be afraid to protest the move for fear of reprisal. Other caregivers may be pressured to move their family member back home and fear for their health and safety because of inadequate homecare in their community. Moving patients should be done only with their informed consent or consent of their caregiver and only as a last resort after all other options have been explored.

What is the criteria and process for deciding who gets moved and for how long? Has the ethics committee of the hospital reviewed this process? What are the costs of transporting patients to outlying hospitals? Could these funds be better spent on homecare or nurses?

There are some possibly solutions to the current situation. The government could:

• increase homecare or other services to help people stay at home with added support to families,

• convert some of the offices in the hospital or Thomson Centre to accommodate beds,

• use the space above the new emergency wing or in the old emergency wing for more beds,

• explore alternative approaches with family and community members to provide care in rural communities,

• explore the training of local homecare workers or personal support workers by Yukon College in rural communities,

• provide a nursing program at Yukon College,

• develop a planning process immediately to look at the current and future needs of older adults and involve them in a meaningful way in this planning.

We believe that due to lack of long range planning from previous years, your government faces a shortage of long-term care beds, which has affected the availability of acute care beds at Whitehorse General Hospital.

There appears to be a lack of coordination of services and long-term planning between the Yukon Hospital Corporation and the health department on home care, long-term care and end-of- life care. One wonders if more effective use of facilities and resources could happen if there was a more comprehensive regional plan for all of these services.

The long-term care facility in Whistle Bend will ease some of the pressure on the hospital, but according to the Yukon Medical Association, it sounds like there will still be a need for more acute care beds.

Our population is aging and the demands on healthcare, housing and other services are already surpassing availability. We need to avoid the crisis management cycle that has existed for a number of years.

We look forward to meeting with the minister soon to discuss the ideas presented. Our intent is to support ideas to make the system more effective for not only patients and their families, but for staff as well.

This piece was adapted from a letter to Health and Social Services Minister Pauline Frost written by Lillian Nakamura Maguire on behalf of the members of Seniors Action Yukon.

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