Question re: Whitehorse General Hospital renovations - April 16, 2014

Mr. Silver:   I have a question for the Minister of Health and Social Services.

Last spring, officials of the Yukon Hospital Corporation appeared as witnesses in this Chamber to address questions about a variety of topics including the proposed emergency expansion at Whitehorse General Hospital.

Before that, it had been two full years since representatives of the corporation appeared in the Legislative Assembly. The government has been very reluctant again this spring to allow these witnesses to appear, despite my request to have this happen.

When officials were here last May, we discussed the hospital expansion and they estimated that the new emergency department would be in service in 2017. This week the minister said, “The plans for the expansion of the emergency department are evolving.”

Will the 2017 deadline be met for the new emergency department to be in service?

Hon. Mr. Graham:     As I said, plans for the emergency department are evolving and that has come about as a result of the fact that the hospital is continuing to investigate best practices. They’re investigating alternate methods of service in the emergency department. They’re working together with the physician community, as well as other interested parties, to make sure that what they get here is the absolute best possible emergency department for Yukoners.

If the planning and reviews take a little longer, I think that’s perfectly acceptable in order to receive the best possible alternative with the construction of the new emergency centre.

Mr. Silver:   The Hospital Corporation last appeared in this House a year ago and since that time we’ve been told that there have been significant developments. We have found out, for example, that the expansion of the Whitehorse General Hospital went from “to be in service in 2017” to “evolving,” as the minister put it the other day and again today.

Is this why the government has to come up with a costly plan to build a temporary home for a new MRI machine?

One of the reasons for the delay seems to be that the minister and the chair have different opinions on the future of the ambulance station that sits on the hospital grounds. The chair wanted to demolish it, and the minister said to save it. The minister admitted this week that this has caused the hospital back to the drawing board to redesign their expansion project.

What is the minister’s new date for when this expansion will be in service, or is the date evolving as well?

Hon. Mr. Graham:     It’s interesting that this government was the first government to even bring the Yukon Hospital Corporation forward to the Legislature as a witness, and I’ve made a commitment that we will do so again in the fall session. The Hospital Corporation will be attending.

As I said in my previous answer, the plan for the Hospital Corporation is evolving. Yes, one of the stumbling blocks was the proposal to demolish the ambulance station on the grounds. That was determined not be the appropriate step, and so it required some changes. That’s why I said that the changes will come. They will come in due time and we won’t proceed with the project — or the Hospital Corporation won’t proceed with the project — until such time as they are certain that they have the absolute best system in the emergency department for citizens in the Yukon.

Mr. Silver:   It’s good to hear that the minister is committing to having the witnesses from the Hospital Corporation appear. As of last week, we were told that he had no interest in doing so. The chair of the hospital board has been talking about this project since 2010. At the time, the cost of the project was $50 million. Last fall the price jumped to $65 million.

The price has been evolving as well, I guess, and it will change again — as the minister has now confirmed that the project has gone back to the drawing board for redesign.

Can the minister tell Yukoners what has been spent on this project to date?

Hon. Mr. Pasloski:     It is very obvious to anyone who has constructed, built or renovated anything that, until we actually have a set plan — we will then be able to have a better estimate as to what it will actually cost.

As we know with planning, sometimes even with the best plans, as we have described in this House with the budget mains — in spite of best planning, sometimes things happen inevitably. Many times, not within the control of the government, those plans have to change. Here we have again the Liberal leader trying to walk on both sides of the fence. He wants to criticize us for lack of planning and then also criticize us when we are going to plan too much.

The good news is that, because of the financial shape of this government — the territory’s finances, the shape that they are in — we will have the flexibility to ensure that we can build this hospital, and either choose to pay for it or do what a lot of people would say financially — and that would be to perhaps look at financing it and mortgaging it because there will be generations of people who will be able to benefit from this.

 I know another thing is that we are moving forward with the expansion of McDonald Lodge. We just completed the opening of the new hospital in Dawson City, which the member for that riding voted against.