Health care lags, NDP says, as it again questions premier’s priorities

Kimiya Shokoohi/LJI Reporter/Saskatoon StarPhoenix Rural and Remote Health Critic Matt Love and Official Opposition Health Critic Vicki Mowat respond to critical capacity issues in front of Royal University Hospital in Saskatoon, Sask. on Monday, Oct. 16, 2023.

Kimiya Shokoohi
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Saskatoon StarPhoenix

In the one week Rick Thompson has been at Royal University Hospital for sepsis, a side effect of his ongoing cancer treatment, he has had to move beds four times. On at least two of those occasions, he’s been woken up past midnight, bright lights beaming.

Thompson doesn’t live far from the hospital, but he said staying at RUH is his only option, because otherwise he won’t get the timely treatment he needs.

Thompson was strolling around the RUH lobby on Monday, just steps from where NDP MLAs Vicki Mowat and Matt Love addressed what they call a “crisis” in the provincial health-care system. The strain has been affecting cities large and small across Saskatchewan, they said.

“When we have closures in rural areas, that affects folks waiting in the ER in our larger centres,” Love said.

Mowat and Love noted that acute care services have been deemed temporarily unavailable in the town of Broadview since June 2021. In Wilkie, emergency and outpatient services have been temporarily unavailable since June 2021. In Lanigan, Redvers and Wolseley, long-term services and hours of operations have all been reduced.

On Monday, the NDP noted there were 88 patients at RUH waiting to be transferred to a different bed and 41 patients in the ER without beds.

“Emergency rooms are the canary in the coal mine,” Mowat said. “When they can’t process people through the system, they can’t admit someone into a bed in the hospital who needs to be admitted, there is serious problems in our health-care system.”

Love and Mowat on Monday were again critical of Premier Scott Moe and the Saskatchewan Party, questioning why calling back the legislature for an emergency sitting on the matter of students’ rights to choose their own pronouns was considered such a high priority when the health-care system in struggling in its day-to-day operations.

“We are having an emergency debate in the legislature on what kids call themselves on the playground,” Love said. “Making sure that you have access to care when you need and where you need it, that’s our focus. We need to change that here in Saskatchewan.”

Saskatchewan Union of Nurses president Tracy Zambory said the health-care system is understaffed and employees are overworked, often performing their regular jobs while covering administrative duties or other tasks.

“They are under pressure, incredible pressure,” Zambory said of health-care professionals in northern regions in particular.

“The issues that are in the north are exacerbated and really difficult because of the extreme nursing crisis we find ourself in right now and how difficult it is to recruit people to the rural areas.”

In Biggar, a town of 2,100 people an hour east of Saskatoon, municipal officials faced a recent crisis and took matters into their own hands.

On Jan. 4, 2022, they were informed by the province that within two weeks the town would lose its emergency room due to nursing shortages. Elected officials formulated a plan that led to offering accommodations to health-care professionals in a five-bedroom housing unit, so that part of any living costs would be alleviated.

“We were proactive,” Biggar Mayor Jim Rickwood said. “We’re just about back up to capacity. Our story in Saskatchewan has been a success.”

Mowat said there has been “a domino effect of failures throughout the system.” Love said health-care workers are doing all they can, “but they’re understaffed and burning out,” adding, “There’s no serious retention strategy. There’s no serious recruitment strategy. There’s just no real plan.”

Kimiya Shokoohi is the Local Journalism Initiative reporter for the Saskatoon StarPhoenix.

The LJI program is federally funded by the Government of Canada.