NDP say ‘minimum’ 53 Sask. hospitals experienced disruptions since 2019

by Alec Salloum

Regina Leader-Post

The official Opposition accused the province of being “allergic to transparency” when it comes to health care disruptions across Saskatchewan as it highlighted a ‘minimum’ of 53 hospitals and health centres that have dealt with service closures over the past four years.

“They fought tooth and nail to limit our access to this information,” Matt Love, rural and remote heath critic, said to media Monday morning before handing the mic to ethics and democracy critic Meara Conway who detailed the difficult road the party took to acquire the data in question, having started the FOI process in February 2023.

For context, the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) website lists 59 hospitals and health centres in the province. Across those locations the NDP says there have been “hundreds of distinct service closures” at the hospitals between August 2019 and July 2023.

“At these 53 different hospitals, there were at least 951 distinct closures to emergency rooms, hospital laboratories, surgical theatres and other services,” Love said during a Monday morning news conference.

During the news conference, the NDP handed out a sheet showing the hospitals in question and the number of disruptions, average length of the disruption and the number of days with disrupted service in total. The Herbert and District Integrated Health Facility had 48 disruptions, each averaging 20 days for a grand total of 951 days of disruption. The specifics of these closures and others were not elaborated upon.

Emergency rooms have been hit the hardest according to the data acquired by the NDP through freedom of information (FOI) requests. Love said there have been 407 “distinct closures” of emergency rooms.

Conway, outlined the many months process of acquring the records saying the NDP recvied th records follwoing the involveement of the Information and Privacy Commissioner and even then, only received the data on Dec. 8, one day after the wrap up of the fall sitting of the legislative assembly.

“This government is allergic to transparency,” said Conway. “Some of this information could be the difference between life and death for folks knowing whether your local emergency room is opened or closed.”

When asked for comment, the Government of Saskatchewan provided an emailed statement.

“We know that there is more work to be done to address staffing challenges in our health care system, and we are committed to continuing this work,” the statement said.

The statement did not respond to questions about how the government could be more forthcoming with details around service disruptions.

After an 11-month process of looking for information, Conway says the data set appears to be incomplete. For example, the initial FOI sought “a table or spreadsheet listing hospitals that have had service disruptions (transition to alternate levels of care, permanent closures and staffing-related disruptions) for longer than 24 hrs since August 1, 2019.”

Things like disruptions to obstetrics care in Estevan, for example, were not listed in the table, nor were hospitals in Regina and Saskatoon placed on bypass.

“We’re not confident this is all of the information and we had to fight tooth and nail just to get this,” Conway said.

Last week, the NDP sounded the alarm over the lack of obstetrics care for women in the province in the wake of a one-month shutdown of obstetrics services in Meadow Lake.

A notice on the SHA website, under the “Service Disruption” tab gives notice that services will be shuttered between Dec. 1, 2023 and Jan. 1, 2024. The notice reads, in part, that patients “should still come to the Hospital in order to be screened. If needed, your care may be transferred to Battlefords Union Hospital, the Jim Pattison Children’s Hospital in Saskatoon or Lloydminster Hospital.”

The government said it was making inroads to address staffing concerns across the province with its Health Human Resources Action Plan, pointing to recruitment figures and new training seats added to the province.

Carla Beck, leader of the Opposition, said it should not be this difficult to find out what is happening with the SHA and within hospitals. She said it comes down to a “matter of life and death” when someone is driving down the highway trying to get emergency care.

“We have immense resource wealth, and we certainly have the potential,” Beck said.

“There’s no reason that our hospitals and our health care system can’t be world-leading once again.”