SHA explains plans for surge capacity during omicron wave

Vaccine file photo.

The Saskatchewan Health Authority announced Thursday that they have updated their COVID-19 surge plan based on the expected increase in staff absenteeism due to the Omicron variant.

Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency president Marlo Pritchard outlined the plan during the Provincial Emergency Operations Centre(PEOC) technical briefing for media on Thursday morning.

“I really do want to emphasize this is a proactive plan,” Pritchard said.

“(It) will be implemented in the event the province experiences a significant increase in acute care patients at hospitals or if the health care system faced potential staffing shortages or the situation where a large number of health care providers were required to self-isolate due to COVID.”

This plan includes five key strategies which will help ensure Saskatchewan patients continue to receive the best care possible.

The first is the Establishment of “Go Teams” of medical professionals that can quickly mobilize and deploy to help maintain continuity of key services across the province. The second is to optimize acute care capacity and emergency department flow. The third is to maintain enhancements to Emergency Medical Services that have been put in place to manage additional demand through previous COVID case surges. The fourth is to implement provincial human resource strategies like cross-training staff to meet multiple needs and using what they call Supplemental Workforce Teams which can be adapted from other parts of the sector. The fifth is time-limited, targeted service slowdowns when/where required.

“The plan ensures human resources are available to step up capacity in phases as demand escalates,” Pritchard said. “This will insure that any impacts to services are minimized as much as possible.”

SHA officials said the organization is prepared for the challenge after facing similar surges in other waves.

“As we scale up to meet the increased demand due to Omicron, we know it will impact our healthcare teams,” Interim Chief Operating Officer, and lead for SHA’s emergency response Derek Miller said in a release.

“These strategies will help protect our ability to deliver essential lifesaving supports for those most in need, ensure any effects on services are as temporary as possible and position us to rapidly and safely return services to normal as pressures subside.”

Additional updates will be provided on any service changes that may be required as demand increases. Pritchard said shipping COVID-19 patients out of province is not currently in the cards.

“At this point in time we do not expect to need to transfer patients out of province,” he said. “We are not currently seeing a significant impact in our ICUs. In fact, our numbers are significantly lower than they were in the fourth wave. If it changes, we will continue to work with SHA.

“We also have to recognize that the situation is also different,” he added. “We have got significant pressure in other provinces so that capacity or capability may not even be there.”

Pritchard also updated on rapid antigen tests and explained that the province is set to receive 4.3 million tests this month.

“This is an all-inclusive number which includes allocations for the Saskatchewan Health Authority, NITHA and ISC communities. So far in January we have received 523,499 tests and another 2.3 million are scheduled to ship by January 17 leaving a remainder of 1.7 million to be arriving somewhere between now and the end of the month,” he said.

“Again, the Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency anticipates receiving a similar number in the month of February from the Federal Government although that has not been confirmed as of this date,” Pritchard explained.

Pritchard acknowledged that there has been an increase is cases and that has caused a challenge in PCR testing.

“We really do appreciate the patience of the public with those lines. But it is critical to remember with the high-risk cases are being prioritized for testing results. This insures that those most at risk are notified in a timely manner. Auto notifications are in place for all positive cases. While there have been some cases in the last couple of days with this service we believe that these have now been rectified,” he said.

They also urge the public to seek a PCR test result at MySaskHealthRecord to keep track of status.

“If you are experiencing mild cold-like symptoms including cough, sore throat it is recommended that you stay home, use a rapid antigen test and self-isolate based on those results. It is not necessary to get a PCR test. PCR testing continues to be available for those identified by Medical Health Officers as part of an outbreak, those who require transfer to acute and congregate settings and those immunocompromised patients,” he said.

There have also been issues with capacity at HealthLine 811 according to Pritchard.

“For your information the 811 line has seen a threefold increase in call volumes this and the SHA is staffed well above the baseline for this service and more work to supplement that is ongoing,” Pritchard said.

“SHA officials are taking every opportunity to try and identify more resources from their labour pool and are tapping into the supplemental workforce teams to onboard more staff,” he added.

He explained that 72 administrative professionals and 11 registered nurses are being integrated from the supplemental workforce in the coming days.

“All of the registered nurses and 30 of the administrative professionals are in orientation right now and should be in place and working on the 811 line next week,” he said.

“I would again like to acknowledge and apologize for those delays based on the current challenges but a lot of work is being done by the SHA to supplement that and we anticipate that will be addressed over the coming days,” he said.

They asked for patience from the public as they work through these issues and encouraged anyone experiencing these delays to familiarize themselves with the testing and treatment information included in the Government of Saskatchewan’s COVID-19 website

“There is important information on the website that may help answer some of the questions that are currently being sought through 811,”

He also said that MySaskHealthRecord is going to be unavailable from 6 p.m. on Jan. 15 until 6 a.m. on January 16 due to a planned service upgrade.

“If you are trying to create a new account or looking for updates to your record please try again after that time and again we apologize for any inconvenience,’ he said.

“Like always, I encourage everyone to get fully vaccinated and to get their booster dose as soon as possible,” he said.