Not unusual for single COVID patient to receive treatment on non-COVID ward: province

Saskatchewan Health Authority CEO Scott Livingstone. (Brandon Harder/Regina Leader-Post)

It’s not unusual for a COVID-19 positive patient and a negative patient to be housed on the same unit, the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) said Thursday.

SHA executive director Scott Livingstone said that the plan for providing care for COVID-19 patients in hospitals across the province includes thresholds where wards or facilities become COVID-positive exclusively, depending on how many cases there are.

“It would not be unusual to see a COVID patient on a ward with non-COVID patients if it was a single patient,” Livingstone said.

“There is a trigger where that unit would become COVID only.”

Livingstone, and SHA emergency operations centre lead Derek Miller said staff are well-equipped to handle instances of individual patients with an infectious disease, and that as long as procedures are followed, the likelihood of spread is minimal.

“Our teams are very well practiced and educated (in) training and protocols in order to manage patients who have any kind of disease that can be transmitted within an environment,” Miller said.

“Those precautions we’re using now .. we’ve scaled it up. But on a unit basis, staff are well-equipped to handle a single patient who’s COVID-positive.”

The response comes after the Herald reported about a local resident concerned for his wife’s safety because of the presence of a COVID-19 positive patient on her unit and a sharing of staff members between the patients.

Joe Grimard said his wife was in the hospital for two weeks due to an infection in her lungs, and that she doesn’t have COVID-19. He was concerned about her safety.

A written response from the SHA said that every hospital is feeling the effects of the surge in cases and that all staff are taking appropriate precautions to maintain safe and quality care.

“I can see how that would be concerning for a patient, but there are infection control protocols,” Livingstone said.

“COVID-19 prevention pathways deal with those issues and we’ve been dealing with that all along throughout the pandemic.”

In April, the SHA said that they were confident within their mixed-use facilities that they could separate staff and patients effectively “to not create cross contamination” and would be able to “provide (care) within the mixed population.”

At the time, NDP leader Ryan Meili called for separate areas and separate staff for COVID positive and negative patients.

The regional integrated care director said that the main strategy was to separate groups within the hospital and ensure mitigate any potential cross-contamination.

Speaking to the Herald Monday, NDP Health Critic Vicki Mowat said the government must ensure proper cohorting is maintained to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“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.”

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.”

The province has mandated cohorting of staff in long-term care facilities, with few exceptions. The cohorting is designed to keep the infection from spreading to long-term care.

On Thursday, Livingstone said cohorting of staff in integrated facilities has been a challenge.

“We can’t cohort in a smaller facility because if we cohorted in long-term care we wouldn’t have any staff for patients in acute care and vice versa,” he said.

When exemptions to long-term care cohorting are made, he said, extra infection control precautions are taken.

Miller said that only a few occupations have been provided an exemption and that there is a procedure to follow before anyone can be granted an exemption to work in more than one long-term care facility.