Saskatchewan’s Minister of Health says it’s clear Victoria Hospital is not able to meet current needs, but added there’s no clear timeline for building a new one.
Rosetown-Elrose MLA Jim Reiter, who took over from former minister Dustin Duncan in February, was in Prince Albert on Tuesday for a medical facilities tour with Prince Albert Carlton MLA Joe Hargrave. The trip included a stop at the Mont St. Joseph Home, as well as a meeting with Rose Garden Hospice representatives and an extensive tour of Victoria Hospital.
Reiter said this was the first time he’d toured the facility, and the need for a new one was a common theme throughout the trip.
“It was, I was going to say, the underlying tone, but it was more blatant than that,” he chuckled. “It was a discussion point as we toured through the building. It was good for me to see it.”
Reiter said that while aging infrastructure is a concern across the province, Victoria Hospital is still in good shape. However, he added that it clearly isn’t built to handle such a large number of patients.
“We went into various departments, some heavier than others and that sort of changes with the day, but clearly the hospital was serving far more patients than it was designed for,” he said. “We’ve got issues that we’re going to need to deal with.”
During the Saskatchewan Party leadership campaign, then-candidate Scott Moe promised to build a hospital in Prince Albert with 100 per cent government funding “when our finances permit.” With Moe firmly installed in the premier’s chair, Reiter said that commitment hasn’t changed.
On Tuesday, he said the province’s financial position was improving, and called the new hospital “a huge priority for our government.” However, he also has no timeline for when that will occur.
“It would be inappropriate for me to put an exact date on it,” he said. “Obviously this isn’t a decision made by one person. This is a decision that’s going to be made by the candidate and the premier. Joe (Hargrave) has advocated strongly for it. It’s always front of mind for all of us and like I said, finances are moving in the right direction. I’m hopeful we’ll see that continue.”
A new Prince Albert hospital isn’t the only issue on the Health Ministry’s front burner. In 2017, the province of Saskatchewan saw newly diagnosed HIV cases rise slightly from 170 in 2016 to 177 last year. That’s the third straight year the number of newly diagnosed cases has increased.
Reiter said the problem was deeply concerning, but said it’s a positive sign to see more people getting treatment.
“We’ve greatly increased the amount of testing that we do, and obviously when you’re testing more people, you’re likely to find more people who are HIV positive,” he explained. “That hurts the statistics, but obviously if you’re going to help people, you need to know.”
In the most recent budget, the provincial government earmarked $600,000 to provide free HIV medications for eligible Saskatchewan Health beneficiaries. In the past, the province only covered 91 per cent of HIV medication.
Beyond that, Reiter said there needs to be a renewed commitment to education, and encouraging residents to “not engage in risky behaviour.”
He also didn’t rule out creating safe injection sites around the province, but added that it wasn’t their first choice.
“We’ve tried to focus on other areas we think could potentially be more effective,” he said.