Health care needs patient first culture

There was a time in Saskatchewan when citizens felt cared for under their prepaid health care system. Everyone who wanted one had a doctor. Getting lab work and referrals to specialists was done with a sense of urgency because you, the patient, were valued.

Skip ahead a few decades and despite incredible advances in health technology, the ‘care’ seems to have grown cold. Our standards of what is acceptable has been lowered and more fall through the ever widening ‘cracks’.

The onset of covid drastically changed accessibility to health care. Everyone adjusted while we ‘flattened the curve’ for three years with often hypocritical directives and mandates. Then we decided to ‘live with’ covid.

But in 2024, accessing health care has not returned to the previous norms.

Take the experience of one of my Sask Rivers constituents. We will call him “Bill”.

Like many rural seniors, Bill sees a Nurse Practitioner regularly. Bill was used to travelling to Shellbrook to get lab work done. About a week later the results would be available and Bill would visit his NP to review and assess his ongoing care.  

Bill, who is partially blind and dependent on others for travel, was unable to keep a lab appointment due to weather and other factors in early January. He called the lab to  reschedule, and was given a date of January 24th. Concerned that this was pushing his NP visit too far ahead, Bill asked if he could just do a ‘walk-in’ when he had transportation available. Prior to covid, the lab offered walk-in appointments.

Bill was told no, he could not come in any sooner, and that if he wanted lab work done sooner, he should call the Big River Health Centre. Pressed as to why he couldn’t come in sooner, even to wait for a ‘no-show’ space, Bill was told that the lab was short-staffed and the staffer hung up on him.

Bill did call the Big River lab which told him yes, he could ‘walk-in’ that day, but there was no guarantee he would be seen even after driving 35 miles one-way.

Not wanting to complicate his medical routine, Bill ended up calling back Shellbrook a few days later, at which point the next available time was February 6th. Ultimately, Bill’s medical schedule fell behind almost a month leaving him at risk. He has now been instructed to make his appointments three weeks in advance.

When Bill called a number of public officials to get answers as to why it is so hard to access timely health care, one of them told him it was because some agencies kept their covid routine and policies. Basically, a covid-hangover.

In another incident, a constituent called me to report that at one time she was able to obtain a test (for her employer), to determine whether she had natural immunity to covid, which she did. This was done at her own expense.

A few months later, she needed to repeat the test. She was shocked to learn that the lab had been directed to stop testing for natural immunity. There was no explanation as to why.

I tell the second story to ask a question about the first. If authorities can direct a lab as to what tests it is allowed to provide to patients, why can’t they instruct the labs and hospitals to operate for the convenience of those patients, rather than convenience of the system. Is that too much to ask?

It is common knowledge that our health-care workers are burned-out and undervalued, which ultimately affects patient care. Rather than promote a ‘patient-first’ culture with recognition for employees that provide exceptional care, the province has allowed apathy to grow within the ranks of the Saskatchewan Health Authority. Post-covid, trust in health care is at an all-time low while patient frustration continues to grow.

We all remember when our provincial leader, Premier Scott Moe said that he was “going to make life uncomfortable” for us. He didn’t lie about that.

As it stands today, the whole health care system remains uncomfortable for everyone.