Category: Mike Nixon Letters

Continuing care for Yukoners: Listening and responding to seniors and their families

Mike Nixon, MLA for Porter Creek South As submitted to the Whitehorse Star on Friday, September 18th, 2015
by Mike Nixon, Minister of Health & Social Services

Caring for elders and seniors has always been and will always be extremely important to our government. We understand that seniors are individuals with unique needs and concerns. That is why we have committed to – and delivered on – our promise to provide housing options along a continuum of care needs, everything from the highest level of continuing care to helping seniors still living in their homes.

That is also why we have been engaging with seniors and their families on this issue for several years. We began talking to seniors in a focused way about continuing care in 2012/2013, which resulted in the first of two needs assessments. Another series of meetings began last winter and continues this fall, including such groups as the resident councils of existing continuing care facilities, the Golden Age Society, the Yukon Order of Pioneers, the Yukon Council on Aging, as well as seniors and their families. Interested Yukoners have been sharing their thoughts and ideas, and learning about the planning for the new continuing care facility we are building in Whistle Bend. We will continue this process until late October.

Our government is committed to ensuring that seniors and their families are well-informed about options in Yukon along the continuum of care and that they understand we are making investments all along this continuum. For many Yukon seniors, “aging in place” in their own homes is the most sensible and desirable option. Some seniors, however, require a level of care that cannot be provided in their existing homes because of complex medical issues such as dementia. This type of care often goes beyond what family or part-time help can provide. Living indefinitely in a hospital is not the answer. Hospitals are meant to provide services such as emergency medical care or surgery; they were never intended to house people for the long term. Unfortunately, some seniors have lived in hospital because there were no other options.

Similar to Copper Ridge Place, the new Whistle Bend continuing care facility is being designed to help meet this important need. It will provide the highest levels of care for those who require 24/7 nursing care and monitoring. This facility is designed for people who truly cannot remain at home any longer – either alone or with assistance. It will be a warm and comfortable home, while offering the necessary medical care, including community hospice palliative care, a specialized mental health unit, a community day program, a First Nation healing centre and a traditional food program.

We have been encouraged to hear from seniors who say that if the new facility is anything like Copper Ridge Place, it will have hit the mark. And that is exactly what we have in mind.

Unfortunately, there has been some misinformation circulating about the Whistle Bend facility. Some people are under the impression that we are taking an “either/or” approach to home care and continuing care. Nothing could be further from the truth. Our government has invested heavily – and continues to invest heavily – in home care. We agree with other Yukoners who say that it is in everyone’s best interest that seniors remain in their homes for as long as possible.

Our commitment to helping elders and seniors stay in their communities is evident in our long record of building seniors’ housing and care facilities. Our ongoing investment, from both Health and Social Services and Yukon Housing Corporation, includes seniors’ residences and units in Dawson City, Watson Lake, Faro, Teslin, Haines Junction, Whitehorse and most recently Mayo.

There have also been concerns raised about the “remote” location of the new facility. In fact, the site of the continuing care facility in Whistle Bend is 9 ½ kilometres from Whitehorse General Hospital, slightly closer than Copper Ridge Place.

As a government, we are committed to listening and responding to the concerns Yukoners have about their health and housing needs as they age. No policy or program or building is ever developed in a vacuum. And when misinformation is circulating, listening and communicating with Yukoners becomes even more important.

Many Yukoners want more information about what the Whistle Bend facility will offer and how it will support specific care needs. Through meeting with prospective residents and families, we are connecting with Yukoners on this critical matter. We also encourage you to visit our Health and Social Services website at www.hss.gov.yk.ca to learn more about continuing care. A new web page on the Whistle Bend facility is in the process of being launched – it will be featured on the department’s home page.

Whitehorse General Hospital is expanding

Mike Nixon, MLA for Porter Creek South As submitted to the Whitehorse Star on Friday, July 10th, 2015
by Mike Nixon, Minister of Health & Social Services

Thanks to the efforts of the community, the hospital and the government, the Whitehorse General Hospital (WGH) is undergoing an expansion that will enable more advanced health care here in the territory. The goal is to make further improvements in providing services and care for Yukoners.

The Yukon government is committed to investing in and delivering quality health facilities and programming. The expansion represents the latest delivery on our commitment to health care innovations and technologies that will support the very best acute care for all Yukoners.

In January, together with the hospital, we opened the suite that houses the first magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) facility north of 60. As the first phase of the expansion project, the construction of the MRI facility was brought in under budget and ahead of time, with operations currently running smoothly. This bodes well for the overall project, the first large-scale enhancement to WGH in 20 years. Including the MRI facility, the job entails $72 million worth of work over three years.

Over the last 20 years, health care standards in design, patient safety and infection control have changed significantly. This project will bring WGH up to date as well as provide more space, including a 40,000 square foot, two-storey expansion wing on the east side of the existing hospital building.

Changes to the existing facility include the relocation of key diagnostic imaging equipment, such as the CT scanner and X-ray, bringing them closer to the new emergency department, and the relocation of the ambulance station from its current site by WGH to a new building nearby on Hospital Road. Construction of this building has already begun.

The new emergency department will include an increased number of treatment spaces and a data centre for hospital info systems. The second floor can be adapted in the future to provide more inpatient beds.

The original Whitehorse General Hospital was built on its current site in 1959, and the facility we use today was constructed in 1994. I am pleased that the efforts of the community, the hospital and the government are making this much-needed expansion come to fruition. Yukoners will benefit greatly from this project.

I would like to thank Yukon’s healthcare workers for their support and patience as we work to enable them to continue to provide the best care possible. I would also like to thank the public for their understanding during construction. I look forward to providing more updates on the progress of this important project as it continues.

Mike Nixon

Minister of Health and Social Services

Raising awareness and embracing the unique talents of individuals with Autism

Mike Nixon, MLA for Porter Creek South As submitted to the Whitehorse Star on Friday, April 10th, 2015
by Mike Nixon, Minister of Health & Social Services

On April 2nd, I rose in the Yukon Legislative Assembly to pay tribute to World Autism Awareness Day, which was declared by the adoption of a resolution by the United Nations General Assembly in 2007. This demonstrates the significance of the effort to bring the world’s attention to Autism.

It’s also important to note that the World Autism Awareness Day resolution encourages all member states to take action to educate their citizens about Autism and to encourage early diagnosis and early intervention. Through personal experience, I know that both early diagnosis and early intervention make a world of difference.

Autism affects children in many countries irrespective of gender or socio-economic status. This condition is characterized by impairments in social interaction, problems with verbal and non-verbal communication, and restricted, repetitive behaviour, interests and activities.

There are consequent challenges to long-term health care, education, training and intervention programmes undertaken by governments, non-governmental organizations and the private sector, as well as a tremendous impact on children, their families, communities and societies.

When my son was diagnosed more than ten years ago, the statistics showed that 1 in more than 300 children was being diagnosed with ASD or Autism Spectrum Disorder. Recent reports are indicating that one child in 69 is now being diagnosed with some degree of Autism.

Boys are approximately five times as likely as girls to receive such a diagnosis. This year, it is reported that one in 42 boys and one in 189 girls are diagnosed with some degree of Autism.

The UN resolution from 2007 notes the high rate of Autism around the world and the consequent developmental challenges associated with children with Autism. World Autism Awareness Day on April 2nd is meant to draw awareness to Autism as a growing global health issue. Activities take place in communities around the world to help increase and develop knowledge of Autism.

World Autism Awareness Day is also an opportunity to celebrate unique talents and skills of persons with Autism. It is a day when individuals with Autism are warmly welcomed and embraced in community events around the globe, with the hope that someday, each and every day going forward, the same warmth, inclusion and acceptance will be the norm for individuals with ASD.

It is also the hope that Autism organizations all around the world, including our own Autism Yukon, will give a voice to the millions of individuals worldwide who are undiagnosed, misunderstood and looking for help and support.

As a parent of a child with Autism, and on behalf of the Yukon government and my caucus colleagues, I would like to recognize the parents, grandparents, siblings, extended family members and the many caregivers and professionals who have worked so incredibly hard in Yukon to ensure that supports and services are available to families and children. This government is pleased to support the valuable work of Autism Yukon and other non-profit organizations in providing support to people with Autism, and in raising awareness. We stand by them in their efforts to make positive changes for individuals with Autism and their families.

Let’s put caring for Yukon seniors first

Mike Nixon, MLA for Porter Creek South As submitted to the Whitehorse Star on Friday, March 13th, 2015
by Mike Nixon, Minister of Health & Social Services

Caring for aging loved ones presents an on-going and growing challenge for Yukoners and our health care system. Your government is committed to the best affordable and sustainable continuing care for Yukon seniors.

Yukon government data shows that 40 per cent (over 200) of Yukon home care clients are at high risk to require specialized care that cannot be delivered at home. In addition, 14 per cent have no local family or friend who could assume the caregiver role (the national average is three per cent). Historically, this indicator has been one of the strongest predictors of future need for continuing care.

Designing a single facility that is a home with a sense of community for many seniors and delivers multiple levels of high-need care is a substantial benefit to Yukoners.

Copper Ridge Place is perceived by many Yukoners in a very positive manner — a relatively small facility with a home-like atmosphere. That is a testament to the success of its design and approach, since Copper Ridge actually houses 96 continuing care beds. The first phase of the new Whistle Bend continuing care facility will hold 150 beds and will be designed to emphasize community integration, best practices of smaller, congregate living units that are warm and home-like, access to the outdoors, and exposure to sun and views.

We are committed to supporting people to stay in their communities as long as possible. To help achieve this goal, we have built new seniors’ residences for independent living in Whitehorse, Haines Junction, Watson Lake, Teslin, and Faro in recent years. We have begun work to build a similar new seniors’ residence in Mayo and to replace MacDonald Lodge in Dawson City.

While home care is very effective in keeping people safely in their own homes longer, both in Whitehorse and in rural Yukon communities, it is not a substitute for continuing care for those who require a significant level of support or specialized services.

By creating a larger facility, we can deliver services in an affordable and sustainable manner. It is anticipated that when the first phase of the new facility opens with 150 beds, it will be almost full, almost immediately. Building 15 smaller 10-bed facilities with the necessary 24/7 staffing, kitchens, laundries, cleaning services, and administrative and nursing staff would drive the costs far higher than one facility. We cannot sustain that cost in the long term.

Our recently-announced Whitehorse care facility in the former Oblate Centre that will provide 10 continuing care beds is not a sustainable or desirable long-term solution. It will provide interim relief and potentially alleviate pressures on acute care hospital beds, but is not a model that will solve our ongoing pressures in a cost-effective or appropriate manner.

Yukon families will also benefit from a single facility that can accommodate different types of high-need care. Evidence from other jurisdictions shows that aging married couples who require different levels of care have often been forced to reside in different facilities in order to access the individualized care they require. Such a situation presents real challenges, both to the couple who would prefer to live in the same location, and to families who must travel to different facilities to visit their loved ones. By building a larger facility that encompasses varying levels of high-need care, we will address some of these challenges that have been observed in other jurisdictions. In addition, larger resident populations provide a broader peer group for socializing opportunities and building community.

Whistle Bend was selected as the most suitable location for this important new facility after considering several sites around the city. This decision was made after Yukon government officials worked with City of Whitehorse staff to determine how to best proceed.

By choosing Whistle Bend, Yukon government will be able to integrate the design of the facility into a growing subdivision and ensure that it complements the overall plan for the area. In this way, we can make it part of the community, much like Copper Ridge Place and Macaulay Lodge have seamlessly blended into Copper Ridge and Riverdale respectively. People who live in these areas of Whitehorse value these facilities as important landmarks in their subdivisions.

Yukon offers some of the best continuing care available, thanks to our extraordinary staff and volunteers. By building on our successes, learning from the challenges of other jurisdictions, and working together, we can ensure that we continue to deliver the best health services in the country in a sustainable way.

We respect the work of local businesses

Mike Nixon, MLA for Porter Creek South As submitted to the Whitehorse Star on Monday, January 26th, 2015
by Mike Nixon, Minister of Health & Social Services

In my new role as Minister of Health and Social Services, I am excited about the projects and opportunities ahead of me.

I write today in response to a letter to the editor published in the January 9th Whitehorse Star, signed by Don Roberts and Rick Griffiths, regarding the planning for a new continuing care facility in Whistle Bend. Their letter provides an opportunity to share information about how the need for that facility was determined.

In response to their questions on the needs assessment for the continuing care facility, a local architectural firm, Kobayashi and Zedda, worked with a team of experts from outside Yukon to prepare the report. The lead on the care and needs assessment was Options Consulting, a firm with a great deal of expertise and experience in the health care planning field.

In order to do our due diligence, we also completed a business case to ensure that the needs assessment was indeed accurate and truly reflected the real needs of Yukoners in the area of continuing care. This project too was a team effort, led by a local firm, T-Square Architects, who partnered with a firm which has completed many health care facilities. From Vancouver, the Cornerstone Planning Group added its national expertise to the project.

The business case was directed to rerun the numbers to determine accuracy, make any necessary adjustments to needs, review size options, site options, etc.

Both of these teams, led by Yukon-based companies, pulled together talented, qualified people including health care planners, architects, electrical engineers and mechanical engineers, to make sure that we are getting it right and to provide us with an objective look at a local issue.

Local firms, such as Kobayashi and Zedda, and T-Square Architects, should be lauded for their ability to partner with such highly-qualified companies to provide the best possible needs assessment for Yukon. I am pleased to see Yukon companies leading this work as it aligns with our platform commitment to Putting Yukoners First.

While I cannot speak to how Mr. Roberts made decisions when he was Minister of Health and Social Services, I will say that our government does not spend this kind of money lightly, but instead relies on experts and demonstrated needs to make informed decisions.

Importantly, Yukoners have been telling us they need this project. We know the need is there based on the current services and the current demand, our demographics and how they are changing. We know that Yukoners want this service and they want it to be ready when they need it.

Further, business cases and needs assessments are not tools to determine the cost of a facility, but rather they determine the needs and how those needs can be met. Detailed costing will come later.

We committed in our platform to putting Yukoners first, which includes working with the local business community. We made that commitment because we respect the work of local firms.
I appreciate the opportunity to address these questions and to re-affirm our government’s appreciation for local companies, their expertise and their experience.

In closing, I would like to thank the previous Minister of Health and Social Services, Doug Graham, for leading this project from its inception until now, and for his commitment to Yukon seniors. I am excited to take up the reins and see this project through to completion.