300 beds: bigger isn't always better when it comes to continuing care

This spring, my Yukon NDP colleagues and I heard from hundreds of Yukoners about their priorities and concerns during our 17-stop Sustainable and Prosperous Communities Tour.

What we heard, loud and clear, was that Yukoners want their seniors and Elders to remain a part of their community for as long as possible.

Yet the Yukon Party government wants to build a 300-bed continuing care facility in Whitehorse. This $330-million decision will be the largest and most expensive capital works project in Yukon’s history.

As the Yukon NDP’s health critic, it is my responsibility to ensure health care decisions made by health minister Mike Nixon meet the needs of all Yukoners in the most effective, affordable, and sustainable manner.

As such, I have asked Mr. Nixon numerous questions in the legislature about his proposed $330-million 300-bed facility.

So far, Mr. Nixon has not been able to prove that the 300-bed continuing care facility is the most effective and affordable option to support the health and well-being of Yukon’s seniors and Elders.

Here’s what I did learn:  the Yukon Party government did not consult Yukon seniors, Elders, their families, or medical professionals across the territory before announcing their 300-bed facility.

I watched as Mr. Nixon tried to justify his “bigger is better” approach to health care using two needs assessments that were only written only after this 300-bed model was selected.

And I listened to Mr. Nixon as he dodged the most basic question: whether or not other options to support our aging population were considered.

As a Yukoner, I am disturbed by the lack of transparency that surrounds the Yukon Party government’s decision to build such a costly facility.  

Canadian data shows long-term care facilities with 200 or more beds are proportionally more expensive to operate. And it’s not just the capital costs.

The estimated operation and maintenance costs will rob Yukon’s continuing care budget of its ability to focus on more effective and affordable supports, like home care, that keep people out of institutional care. Recently, the Canadian Medical Association reported that one day of home care costs nearly 60% less than a day spent in a long-term care facility.

It’s true that our population is aging and that some seniors have complex health needs.

But it is also true that the number of Yukon seniors being assisted by home care services is lower today than it was four years ago, and that we have the highest ratio of seniors age 65 and older living in long-term beds in all of Canada.

By working with our citizens and medical professionals we can find effective -- and affordable -- options to help Yukon seniors and Elders stay in their homes and in their communities. Doing so would reduce our high demand for long-term care beds.

I invite Mr. Nixon to look at the evidence and talk to Yukoners before continuing on with the first phase of the 300-bed facility.