Whitehorse hospital patients regularly being moved to other Yukon communities

Lack of beds means some patients are being moved to hospitals in other communities, like Dawson City and Watson Lake. Over the last year, the average occupancy rate at the Whitehorse hospital was about 96.5 per cent.

Lack of beds means some patients are moved to hospitals in Dawson City and Watson Lake

The Watson Lake hospital, where some patients have been moved in recent months because of a lack of beds at Whitehorse General Hospital. (CBC)

The Whitehorse hospital is so often full that officials are now regularly moving patients to hospitals several hours away, in Dawson City and Watson Lake.

James Low, a spokesperson for the Yukon Hospital Corporation, says it's been happening since June. He says 11 patients have been moved to beds in the community hospitals since then.

"I think many Yukoners know that Whitehorse General continues to experience significant over-capacity ... this is a situation that persisted over the last five years," he said.  

"We have an obligation to use all of the resources in our system in the best way possible, so for us that means utilizing all the hospital beds in our system," he said.

Lowe says over the last year, the average occupancy rate at the Whitehorse hospital was about 96.5 per cent. The ideal occupancy rate for the hospital is about 75 per cent, he says. 

"More than half the time, we did not have beds to meet the demand," he said.

The small hospitals in Dawson and Watson Lake, however, each have six in-patient beds. Low says that typically, at least two beds are free in each of those hospitals.

He says health officials decide who to move by using "objective clinical criteria".

"If they require two-nurse care, they'll remain in Whitehorse. If they will imminently require palliative care and their personal supports are in Whitehorse, then they'll remain in Whitehorse," he said.

"We do inform the patient and family that a transfer may be occurring, and our staff will answer questions about the transfer and what the community hospitals are like."

'It's not new'

Health Minister Pauline Frost also says the pressure on Whitehorse General Hospital is an ongoing issue.

'It's not new, so we are taking the necessary measures and working with the hospital,' says Health Minister Pauline Frost. (Claudiane Samson/Radio-Canada)

"It's not new, so we are taking the necessary measures and working with the hospital to address that," she said.

"We're trying to look at telehealth options, so, opening up dialogue so we're not sending patients to Whitehorse unnecessarily. We're looking at alternative level of care, so, trying to free up some of those beds at the hospital for patients who really shouldn't be at the hospital."

Low says there is also relief in sight, with the new Whistle Bend long-term care facility expected to open next year, that will allow some patients to move there, freeing up hospital beds.

"Many Canadian hospitals will struggle with a 10 per cent rate of patients that should be in another type of facility, whereas here in Whitehorse we're experiencing 30 to 40 per cent. That just gives you an idea of how acute the issue is for us," Low said.

With files from Philippe Morin and Nancy Thomson


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