Saskatchewan has asked for more trained ICU help from the federal government after a callout that extended across much of North America did not yield hoped for resources.
The province said on Oct. 18 that it will transfer six patients to Ontario to ease pressure on Saskatchewan ICUs.
“The current level of pressure on our ICU staff requires that a few of our patients be sent out of the province to relieve some of that pressure,” said Premier Scott Moe on Oct. 18. “We will also today be asking for additional resources from the federal government staff that can work in our ICU.”
While case numbers have dropped since the peak in September just prior to the province announcing the return of mandatory masking and that there would be a proof of vaccination requirement for some places, the number of people in the ICU continues to climb.
The time line from infection to needing hospitalization or ICU care ranges from two to four weeks, which is why hospitalization numbers are high now.
The travel cost to fly an ICU patient to Ontario varies depending on the destination, but is roughly about $10,000 per patient. This does not include the actual cost of care or the cost to repatriate the patient once they are able to return.
The province has contracted a private business to handle the transfers, but says the process will be seamless as transfers are done as a matter of course in other scenarios.
Requests for resources from other jurisdictions willing to come to Saskatchewan has not met with much success, said Marlo Pritchard, who is overseeing the COVID-19 response as head of the Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency.
“Basically, we have sent requests to much of North America to identify any skilled ICU workers or perfusionists that may be deployable to Saskatchewan,” he said.
Many jurisdictions have already responded that they cannot and the province knows that Alberta and Manitoba are facing similar pressures on their systems.
Both Moe and Pritchard said the public should be pragmatic about help from the federal government.
“We are also quite realistic that this will not be a large number of staff but it will be a very specialized group of staff,” said Moe.
Health care is a provincial area of responsibility and resources are limited.
“National supports for ICU patients are scarce. It is much more effective to transport patients outside of province to relieve pressure on our health care system,” Pritchard said.
As of 6:00 am on Oct. 18, Saskatchewan had 85 COVID patients in the ICU along with 39 non-COVID patients, meaning 124 patients in a system meant to accommodate 79 people in normal times.
The province said several weeks ago that an additional number of ICU beds have been added to bring the number up to 130, of which 50 would remain allocated for non-COVID patients.
All told, 335 COVID patients are in the hospital.
One or two family or support people will be allowed to transfer with the COVID patients that are transferred out of province.
Which patients are transferred is determined by both the ICU physician and the transfer physician, Pritchard said.