On Tuesday the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) began to resume some health services in varying parts of the province as a cautious first step toward re-opening the health system. Calling into the daily press conference on Tuesday afternoon SHA CEO Scott Livingstone explained that the ‘new normal’ in the healthcare system would take some time.
Livingstone also thanked healthcare workers across the province.
“I am proud of the work they are doing each and every day and I am sure they will provide safe and quality care to the people of the province,” Livingstone said.
The system will be reopening slowly and cautiously and each part of the province may look different but services will begin returning.
Tuesday marked the first day of phase one, with a focus on resuming a few everyday services such as outpatient physiotherapy appointments, kidney health services, some laboratory services, home care (e.g. bathing services) and expanded immunizations.
“We will also see surgical services slowly increasing to accommodate more patients who are on our waiting lists, as well as lab services and diagnostic imaging are also expanding their volumes as well,” Livingstone said.
As part of taking an approach that is tailored to health system readiness in various areas of the province, it should be noted that not all services listed in phase one will begin immediately on May 19.
There will also be an increase in mental health face to face services and placements rescheduled for students pursuing careers in healthcare.
“While we know that some parts of the province are still experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks we also know that there are several people across this province that are needing these services that have been on hold for a number of weeks. During the first phase of resumption we plan on balancing both sides of the equation by being both flexible and adaptive and we will not move further to expand services until we are confident that we can safely take care of patients at the same time as managing COVID response,” Livingstone said.
The services listed in phase one of the plan are those that may start beginning May 19, subject to an approval process that ensures service resumption is undertaken in a considered, thoughtful and safe manner.
Some areas of the province will be ready to resume services, while others are not yet ready. In many cases, the public can expect that their health care experience will be different than prior to the pandemic because of additional measures in place to protect patients and staff. These include adaptation of waiting room practices to promote physical distancing, additional emphasis on virtual care, wherever possible, and additional screening at health care facilities.
The SHA is asking for patience, as these practices are necessary for safety reasons but may cause delays and inconveniences for patients seeking care as services resume. Phase one will also include an expansion of surgeries beyond “three week urgent and emergent cases” to now include “six week urgent cases”.
“I need to stress that just because some of the services are returning we are in no way going back to normal and we are a long way from our normal volume in terms of healthcare and we continue to monitor it in upcoming weeks,” he explained.
A pause on non-urgent and elective surgeries two months ago was necessary to minimize risk to those not needing emergent care, while ensuring hospitals had capacity for a surge in COVID patients. While that need has not changed, the SHA also recognizes the importance of cautiously increasing surgeries for the physical and mental well-being of those on waiting lists
“The public can expect that their healthcare experience is going to look different than it was prior to the pandemic because of the additional measures we will have to put into place to protect both patients and staff.
This will include adoptions of waiting room practices to promote physical distancing, emphasis on virtual care and screening at all healthcare facilities.
“The SHA is asking for patience as these practices are necessary for safety reasons but they may cause some inconveniences for patients as we start to get into this new routine of normal monitoring for COVID as we expand services. I would also like to remind the public that these new restrictions are still in place at our facilities which include long term care homes,” Livingstone said.
A pause on non-urgent and elective surgeries two months ago was necessary to minimize risk to those not needing emergent care, while ensuring hospitals had capacity for a surge in COVID patients. While that need has not changed, the SHA also recognizes the importance of cautiously increasing surgeries for the physical and mental well-being of those on waiting lists.
“A patient’s priority on the surgery list will be determined based on a clinical assessment by their physicians, in consultation with the patient,” SHA’s Physician Executive of Integrated Health Urban Dr. Rashaad Hansia said in a release.
“It’s not based only on the type of surgery needed. Given the complexity of the work involved to resume surgical services in as safe a manner as possible, we won’t see a significant increase right away. What we are seeing is surgeons working with their patients to assess their needs and determine who qualifies for the six week urgent category, then scheduling those for today and in the weeks ahead.”
The priority of surgeries resumed is being done in collaboration with surgeons, and based on their assessments of patients and recommendations. The availability of surgical bookings for each provider is being balanced across all the surgical specialties, and considers the availability of appropriate post-surgical care such as nursing and therapies. Medical Imaging departments are also cautiously increasing CT, MRI and other diagnostic testing to enable non-urgent and elective exams.
However, surgery bookings and the other every day health services resuming today, and in the days ahead, will not be resumed based on a one size fits all approach. Service resumption will vary based on a multitude of factors, including considerations around localized outbreak status, capacity, requirements around adhering to public health orders and other factors used to ensure safety and readiness.
“On behalf of our healthcare teams I would like to thank you for your patience and cooperation as we work through these changes together and make every effort to provide the best healthcare we can for Saskatchewan residents,” Livingstone said.