Yukon hospital overcrowding called 'the new paradigm'

'We shouldn’t be surprised. We have an aging demographic. This has been a slowly building problem that’s been heading our way, that reached a tipping point,' said the president of the Yukon Medical Association.

'This has been a slowly building problem that’s been heading our way, that reached a tipping point'

The Whitehorse General Hospital is regularly at capacity, with no empty beds available for patients. That's forced some surgeries to be cancelled, and raised concerns about infection control. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

The president of the Yukon Medical Association says people in Whitehorse had better get used to a crowded hospital.

"This is the new paradigm that we're going to be dealing with for the next few years," said Alex Poole. 

"We shouldn't be surprised. We have an aging demographic. This has been a slowly building problem that's been heading our way, that reached a tipping point."

The Watson Lake hospital, where some patients have been moved to make room at Whitehorse General Hospital. (CBC)

The Whitehorse General Hospital is regularly at capacity, with no empty beds available for patients. That means surgeries are sometimes cancelled, and patients are sometimes shipped out to distant hospitals in Watson Lake or Dawson City. 

Poole says it's been tough on doctors and nurses too. 

"It's an added stress in looking after the patients, trying to manage the system at the same time," he said.

Dr. Rao Tadepalli, an emergency room physician in Whitehorse, recently took to Twitter to complain.

"Up to 10 patients with 2 far off bathrooms, no showers, lack of privacy, poor infection control and affecting Surgical day care. Staff burn out and poor emergency care due to back log. Hospitals should be for healing," he wrote.

'Patients in many places'

Poole agrees that the overcrowding does raise concerns about infection control.

"There are patients in many places. Certainly everybody's in a bed — nobody's in the hallways," Poole said.

"At this point, I don't think you could say it's leading to infectious problems. But if we had an infectious outbreak, it would be difficult to manage it appropriately, the way things are now."

James Low, who speaks for the Yukon Hospital Corporation, acknowledges the concerns about infection control. 

"Really, the solution is, if we can ease the capacity pressures, then we can ensure that if patients are in more appropriate spaces for their care. That's really the solution here."  

Low also agrees, though, that things are unlikely to change anytime soon — at least until the new Whistle Bend continuing care facility opens next year, allowing some patients to move from the hospital to that facility.

"For us at the hospital, our team, it's going to continue being a daily, if not hourly effort to manage the situation," he said.

With files from Steve Hossack

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