As we embark on a new year, I hope everyone had a safe and happy holiday season. The months ahead will see our Saskatchewan government continue to work towards better access to health care, a stronger economy, safer communities, better education, and a more independent province that will lead the nation for years to come.
As part of that work, we must come together to get through the current pandemic. COVID-19 vaccination rates have been steadily increasing, and those shots are the best tool available against COVID-19. Saskatchewan residents five years of age and older are eligible for the vaccine with booster shots now available to those over 18.
With the new Omicron variant present throughout Saskatchewan, we need to take all available measures to protect ourselves and prevent further transmission. Omicron symptoms present more cold-like than previous COVID-19 variants: runny nose, sore throat, sneezing and fatigue. Do not assume your symptoms are the common cold. If you find yourself with any cold or flu-like symptoms, self-isolate at home and use the COVID-19 testing options available to you.
Thank you to teachers and school support staff for ensuring tens of thousands of students had a more normal in-class experience this past fall. Saskatchewan schools helped prioritize the importance of in-class learning, and your important work in supporting students has been instrumental.
We have made more than $150 million available to ensure students and staff remain safe through the pandemic. Schools plan to spend nearly $35.9 million to help support students and staff for the 2021-22 school year. The funding will support engaging students with low attendance in the past year, support student mental health, and further enhancements to sanitation and personal protective equipment.
Our government is committed to building a stronger, healthier, and better Saskatchewan. More residential mental health beds are helping people transition safely from hospital into their communities. Annual funding of $6 million has provided 67 beds so far, with ten more opening in Prince Albert this spring. That partnership with YWCA will offer six intensive residential mental health beds and four less intensive beds.
Residential mental health beds offer client-centred services for people who have severe and persistent mental health needs. Supportive residential beds help people with mental health challenges live more successfully in the community and reduce the pressures on emergency rooms, police cells, homeless shelters and mental health beds in hospitals.
Our region is one step closer to the expansion and redevelopment of Prince Albert Victoria Hospital. Our government released a Request for Qualifications to assist in selecting a team to design and build the project.
When complete, the expansion will provide a larger emergency department, enhanced medical imaging services, and a 40 per cent increase in the number of hospital beds to 242 from 173, with shelled space to allow for future expansion. The province will pay 100 per cent of the capital cost of the project. The local community and Victoria Hospital Foundation will raise funds for furniture and equipment. This project demonstrates a shared commitment to Truth and Reconciliation through the partnership between our government, Saskatchewan Health Authority, and Prince Albert Grand Council to ensure that culturally appropriate services and spaces are part of this project.
If you have questions, comments, concerns or require assistance with provincial government programs or services, I encourage you to contact our Constituency Office located at 7 – 598 15th St. E. We can be reached by telephone at 306-763-7677 or email: email@example.com.