Hospital running at limited capacity in Canada’s Yukon territory

The Whitehorse General Hospital has been in the ‘red zone’ for the last few days. That means bed availability is extremely limited. (Paul Tukker/CBC)

By Sissi De Flaviis · CBC News

‘It’s difficult to tell what’s driving this. We are busy, there’s no doubt about that,’ says James Low

The Whitehorse General Hospital appears to be nearly at capacity,

The hospital inpatient bed availability tracker is in the “red zone” for both the general intake and the ICU, meaning the bed availability is extremely limited and in most areas, it’s full.

The tracker was last updated on Monday.

James Low, a spokesperson for the Yukon Hospital Corporation, said the hospital’s capacity is not linked to COVID-19 nor staff shortages.

“It’s difficult to tell what’s driving this. We are busy, there’s no doubt about that,” he said. “It could just be that it’s the summer and there’s more people in the territory.”

Low says capacity fluctuates on a day-to-day basis, even hourly.

“When you’re operating in an environment where beds are extremely tight all the time, that does put pressure on our team,” said Low. “It’s exhausting.”

Last Friday, to expand capacity, two patients were transferred to the Watson Lake Community Hospital, almost five hours away from Whitehorse. But this was only a temporary solution.

“We utilize all the beds in the hospital system in the Yukon,” said Low. “That just alleviates the bed pressures here.”

The Whitehorse General Hospital has 58 beds, five of those are maternity beds, while its ICU departmetn has four beds. Watson Lake Community Hospital and Dawson City Community Hospital each have six beds.

Another strategy the hospital uses to alleviate capacity is working with partners such as long-term care homes to move patients and clients who no longer require hospital care to their homes or another facility.

So far, there’s no plan to change the current strategies.

Low said the tracker is meant to communicate to the public the general level of businesses, and it should not deter anyone from going to the hospital if they need to.

“We are here to provide care when it’s needed most,” he said. “If you need urgent care, don’t delay and come to the hospital or dial 911.”

Postponed surgeries

The Whitehorse hospital will be reducing and postponing scheduled non-urgent surgeries for the upcoming weeks.

This is because of staff shortage in the surgical service area and to maintain capacity in the hospital to respond to emergencies.

“So, if somebody has an unexpected emergency situation and they require surgery, we have the capacity to respond to that,” said Low.

Low said the hospital is calling patients to reschedule their appointments. He also said all the postponed surgeries are not considered urgent, such as colonoscopies.

Low said a factor in staffing could be linked to people retiring, leaving the job market or the country-wide nursing shortage.

According to Jerome Marburg, the CEO of the Yukon Registered Nurses Association, there are currently 663 nurses registered in the territory, although not all of them work within the hospital system.

“There is always a known shortage or an anticipated shortage of nurses in Canada and it is not for lack of people pursuing that career. In some cases there’s limited seats in nursing schools, so they’re not producing nurses at a fast enough rate,” said Low.

Low said other careers with increasing challenges in recruitment include X-ray and laboratory technicians.

Related stories from around the North: 

Canada: New Canadian cancer strategy has focus on Inuit, First Nations and Métis people, CBC News

Finland: Finland’s elder care needs funding boost to meet Nordic standards: researcher, Yle News

Greenland: Greenland to reduce services amidst staffing shortages in health care system, Eye on the Arctic

Sweden: Fewer people suffering strokes in Sweden, Radio Sweden

United States: Indigenous students in Alaska get hands-on medical experience at nursing camp, Alaska Public Media

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