NDP health critic stresses importance of cohorting in health care

The NDP’s health critic is calling on the provincial government and SHA to ensure that cohorting continues even as strain on the health care system increases.

Vicki Mowat was responding to a Daily Herald report about a Prince Albert man concerned about his wife’s safety after she was allegedly being treated on the same floor and with the same nurses as COVID-19 positive patients.

Joe Grimard said his wife, Leanne, was in the hospital for two weeks due to an infection in her lungs, but did not have COVID-19.

Grimard said ideally he wants his wife safe at home with him but would feel better if she was on a separate floor from COVID-19 patients and had a separate team of nurses.

“We’ve been hearing similar stories since the beginning of the pandemic,” Mowat said, “and have been calling on the government to ensure that cohorting happens. It’s important that cohorting is a piece of that because we’ve seen how quickly COVID-19 spreads.”

Mowat said that union members have reported a lack of staffing issue at some health care facilities. She said the government should have had the capacity ready nine months ago, instead of ramping up now.

The Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) has said it has a step-up policy, where measures are gradually increased to stay ahead of demand, but critics have said the response has been too slow.

The SHA has said it is ready for large capacity and has a plan to address an expected spike in case numbers, including slowing or stopping some less-urgent treatments and procedures.

They did not respond to a media request about cohorting and capacity as of press time.

When asked about Grimard’s case last week, they said “it is important to know that every hospital in the province is feeling the effects of the surge in COVID-19 cases right now and Prince Albert is no exception. All medical units are required to support those requiring the highest level of care. SHA staff are taking all the appropriate precautions including proper use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), handwashing and appropriate distancing to ensure safety of all patients. Patients and residents of our facilities should rest assured staff, physicians and care providers are doing the very best they can to maintain safe and quality care during these exceptional times.”

One of the issues identified early on, Mowat said, is that many health care workers work part-time in multiple facilities. That means some work several jobs.

“When we called for cohorting, back in the spring, we also called for income stability, making sure people can make a living wage,” she said.

“We hear about this in home care as well, the same types of situations where it’s that these there are problems within the system that has been exacerbated by COVID. It has amplified a lot of these concerns with being able to get good jobs in the first place.”

Mowat also said the slow rollout of public health measures and inconsistent messaging from the premier contributed to the case count rising to the level it’s at, which has made it harder for health care workers to do their jobs as more COVID-positive patients come through and more staff get exposed through community spread.

She said measures, such as the mask mandate, should have been implemented sooner and more clearly.

The province has defended its public health approach and restriction rollout.

“Saskatchewan has the second-lowest unemployment in the country and most of our economy remains open,” executive council spokesperson Matthew Glover said in response to similar NDP criticisms Monday.

He said the province has “worked diligently to control the spread of the virus” while ensuring public services and businesses could continue to function and imposed “severe and wide-ranging restrictions on public gatherings” when the pandemic began.

 With files from Michael Bramadat-Willcock, Local Journalism Initiative reporter and Kelly Skjerven, Daily Herald