Some medical services and surgeries put on hold due to COVID-19 will resume on May 19 under a Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) plan released Tuesday.
There will be a 10 to 25 per cent increase in surgical services under the first stage of the four-phase plan, according to the province.
The SHA said the plan is being introduced after recent data indicated that the province is in a better position to manage COVID-19.
Officials at a news conference Tuesday said it is needed because they are seeing impacts to health care.
“Make no mistake, this plan is necessary. The reality is that we need to start to resume some services where we can,” said CEO Scott Livingstone.
“While there are risks to resuming services, there are also risks if we don’t. When people don’t get everyday health care their conditions can escalate.”
Read the SHA’s full presentation, released Tuesday, here:
Some services, such as elective surgeries, have been put on hold for weeks due to COVID-19.
According to the plan, the first phase will expand surgeries to include cataracts, hysterectomy, cochlear and thoracic procedures. Some elective surgeries will still not be available until the fourth phase, for which a date has not been set.
The number of MRIs performed, currently at 50 per cent capacity, will increase to 75 per cent.
CT scans will increase from 55 per cent to 75 per cent of normal capacity.
Availability will be increased at primary care clinics and all routine immunizations will be performed.
Now is not the time to be resuming services and taking staff away from the areas in which they are needed during this pandemic.– CUPE Local 5430 president Sandra Seitz
The SHA said there will also be increased inspections of long-term care homes, personal care homes and group homes starting May 19.
There will be an option for in-person appointments for mental health and addictions, and short stay units will reopen along with increased harm-reduction programming.
The plan also includes a gradual reintroduction of home care, kidney health, rehabilitation and therapy programs.
Dr. Susan Shaw, SHA chief medical officer, said the health authority has noticed an overall decrease in people coming to the emergency room.
“We still see patients who are, I think for valid concerns about their safety, choosing to stay away and those are the types of situations that I have seen,” said Shaw.
“I think I can understand why they’re concerned but I want to assure the public that we are doing absolutely everything we can to make sure that the care and experience is as safe as possible while recognizing that we are needing to put protective steps in place.”
However, she said there has been an increase in ER visits from people with chronic conditions who are usually able to stay out of hospital if their condition is well managed.
“We are seeing an increase in admissions to our medicine beds in particular and that’s why we’re focusing on restarting our every day health services,” said Shaw.
Union raises concerns
No date has been set for any of the remaining three phases.
The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 5430 Saskatchewan said in a news release that services should not be resuming while there are outbreaks and rising case numbers.
“Now is not the time to be resuming services and taking staff away from the areas in which they are needed during this pandemic,” said Local 5430 president Sandra Seitz.
It said many of the staff at provincial COVID-19 testing and assessment centres were redeployed from services that were closed or slowed down.
The union questioned who would do that testing if members have to return to their usual jobs.
“The resumption of services plan for health care says that there must be adequate human resources for current operations, [a] growing number of outbreaks, and management of COVID-19 across the continuum of care,” said Seitz.
“How is that possible when the people doing this work will be returning to their previous work?”
Livingstone said at the news conference Tuesday that there had been discussions between the SHA and unions, adding that there is “more work to do.”
“We recognize that it is the membership of our union and our physicians who have stepped up during this pandemic period,” he said.
“We also recognize that they will have concerns at times and we will work to address these concerns.”
Plan includes ‘triggers’ to slow down resumption plan
Livingstone said the plan is flexible and adaptive.
“It will not be a one-size-fits-all approach, it’s more of a framework,” he said.
“It will be mindful of the different local dynamics in the province, including accounting for the outbreaks that may slow the service resumption in certain areas.”
The planning document includes a list of triggers that would slow down the plan to resume services.
The list includes the need to prioritize services for COVID-19, redeployment of staff, illnesses in the workforce or community outbreaks.
The SHA confirmed last week that about 200 health care workers in Prince Albert and Lloydminster were self-monitoring or self-isolating due to outbreaks. Callouts have previously been issued for health care staff to work in Lloydminster and La Loche.
Phases 2, 3 and 4
The second phase of the SHA plan would consist of the reopening of specialty clinics such as electrophysiology, respiratory, eye centre testing and dermatology clinics, and increased fetal testing at high-risk antenatal clinics.
Phase 3 would resume services in chronic disease management, wellness programs, stroke prevention, opioid addiction treatment and specialized services for people with developmental disabilities, along with the reintroduction of more mental health and addictions services.
Phase 4 would include the resumption of “long-waiting” elective surgeries and previously postponed surgeries, as well as the reopening of the hip and knee outpatient clinic.
“I recognize the feeling of wanting to get back to normal,” Shaw said.
“However it’s essential that we proceed thoughtfully, and continue to maintain those everyday practices that have been so successful to date, including physical distancing, handwashing and staying home wherever possible.”
The SHA said it is also redesigning “patient flow” through health-care facilities to limit exposure for vulnerable patients and staggering appointments to limit the number of patients in any one area.