North·Yukon Votes 2021

Yukon doctors lay out list of priorities ahead of territorial election

The Yukon Medical Association is calling on candidates in the territory's upcoming election to make specific improvements in health care, including more mental health and addictions supports and upgrades at the Whitehorse General Hospital.

Yukon Medical Association wants a family doctor for every Yukoner

Dr. Ryan Warshawski, president of the Yukon Medical Association, receives a COVID-19 vaccination in Whitehorse on Jan. 13, 2021. (Wayne Vallevand/CBC)

The Yukon Medical Association is calling on candidates in Yukon's territorial election to make specific improvements in health care.

In a news release last week, the association says its top priority is for every Yukoner to have a family doctor.

It was one of several priorities listed by the association, which represents doctors in the territory, ahead of the April 12 election.

"These are nonpartisan issues. This is not about one party versus another," said Dr. Ryan Warshawski, president of the Yukon Medical Association, in a recent interview on CBC's Yukon Morning

"We want to work with whoever the government is and whoever the opposition is to ensure that we can move these projects forward and advance the health of the territory for all Yukoners."

The association said Yukon has the lowest number of doctors for the population of any jurisdiction in Canada — and the numbers have been trending in the wrong direction in recent years.

Warshawski said the territory has been growing very rapidly and the health system hasn't kept pace.

He said he did not want to get bogged down in specifics when asked how the territory should retain and attract new physicians. He said the association is looking to sit down and have that conversation with the government.

He did cite one example of ensuring the territory has adequate coverage for physicians wanting to take parental leave.

"We're actually sometimes seeing individuals put off having children because they're worried that they won't be able to find anyone to take care of their patients, which is obviously a barrier to anyone signing on to take practice," he said.

Upgrades at Whitehorse General 

Warshawski said there's an "urgent need" to upgrade the surgical services at the Whitehorse General Hospital.

Currently, he said the surgical services area was built in 1996.

"Right now, there's an insufficient number of operating rooms, day care spaces, recovery room beds and staff facilities for the current population. 

"The population is growing and our operating rooms have not," he said.

Warshawski said the hospital also needs the ability to do more surgeries in Yukon so it doesn't have to send people to B.C. for procedures that could be safely and effectively done in territory.

Whitehorse General Hospital pictured on Sept. 9, 2019. The Yukon Medical Association is calling for more security at the hospital, along with upgrades to its surgical services area. (Steve Silva/CBC)

Supports for psychiatrists

Warshawski also called for more support for psychiatrists, who withdrew services from the hospital after a psychiatrist was assaulted.

He said the hospital lacks adequate physical and staff resources for them to properly be able to provide the standard of care that they feel is required. 

"We also need to make sure that we have adequate security staff to ensure the safety of not just physicians, but nurses and other patients in the hospital," he said.

Mental health and addictions

Warshawski said the territory also needs better access to mental health resources outside of the hospital, specifically for alcohol treatment. 

"We need to have a managed alcohol centre where individuals are able to be provided a harm reduction model with alcohol, which is essentially where people can be provided alcohol in a manner to ensure that they don't go into dangerous alcohol withdrawal," he said. 

"We also need a rehabilitation centre where if someone has been detoxed from alcohol, they will be able to to live in a manner that is safe and provide them with the resources that they need so that hopefully they don't fall back into the same trap they were in before."

Creation of a medical director

The association is also calling on the future territorial government to establish a medical director within the Yukon government. 

The position would ensure physicians are involved in the decision-making process for planning how to deliver health care in Yukon.

Warshawski said many changes adopted by the government were made with essentially no discussion with physicians.

A medical director would be involved in those discussions, he said.

Warshawski  hopes by raising these issues, voters will ask questions of their elected representatives.

"It's very often the questions that the public is asking to the governments that the government is aware of and responsive to," he said.

"One of the benefits of living in a small place is that the government really does listen to individual newcomers." 

with files from Yukon Morning