Family seeking changes after Preeceville man dies during ER closure

REGINA – When David Head’s father suffered a heart attack in late June, his family figured emergency care was just one block away.

Floyd Head lived six houses away from the health centre in Preeceville, Sask., but when the family called ahead, they were told the emergency department was closed that week, so Floyd would have to be transported to Yorkton by ambulance instead.

“From the time the ambulance arrived until he was through the doors in Yorkton, it was three hours,” said David Head, accounting for the time paramedics needed to prepare his father for the trip.

“Everything that was done for him in Yorkton could have been done in Preeceville.”

Head says without an emergency room, his father couldn’t have “clot-busting” medication delivered. Floyd’s condition deteriorated from being conscious and talking to unresponsive.

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“Everything that was done for him in Yorkton could have been done in Preeceville,” David said.

The Preeceville & District Health Centre is seen highlighted in a photo taken from in front of Floyd Head’s home. Supplied

Eventually, Floyd was airlifted to a Regina hospital for treatment. Less than two days after the heart attack, he died at the age of 74.

“Even if Dad had passed, I could rest a lot easier knowing our health care had done everything in its power to save him.”

Reduced emergency coverage

Preeceville & District Health Centre is equipped to offer 24-hour emergency care, and did so up until the beginning of June when one of the town’s two physicians decided to move to Regina.

With only one doctor left, the Sunrise Health Region decided to shut down the Preeceville emergency room every second week. During the bypass weeks when ambulances are told not to stop there, emergency services are offered during certain hours in Canora (30 minutes away) or 24-hours in Yorkton (one hour away).

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“(The remaining doctor) agreed to do one-week on, one-week off to see if it provides work-life balance,” said Roberta Wiwcharuk, the VP of Integrated Health Services. “For a physician to be on-call 24/7 is not really resonable.”

Sunrise chose the scheduled, alternating E.R. shutdown weeks, “to make it a little more consistent, so the community knows when we have services.”

Wiwcharuk also says there was never true 24/7 emergency coverage with two physicians.

Recruitment is underway for a physician through the Saskatchewan International Physician Practice Assessment Program (SIPPA), but the earliest a second doctor is expected to be in place in Preeceville is January 2016.

Rural health care review

Opposition NDP health critic Danielle Chartier says the government needs a new strategy for rural health care, asking for a review of coverage at all rural facilities.

David Head (3rd from right) speaks to reporters at the Saskatchewan legislature Thursday, alongside his wife (left) and NDP health critic Danielle Chartier (2nd left). Sean Lerat-Stetner / Global News

“This isn’t about demanding there are specialists in every community,” Chartier said. “We need to find out what the key is to keeping health care professionals in rural Saskatchewan.”

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Chartier points to Craik and Assiniboia as other communities where health services have been reduced.

A government spokeswoman said Thursday the overall supply of Saskatchewan physicians has grown by nearly 28 per cent since 2007. Nearly 200 doctors are taking part in or have already been approved through SIPPA; the government says most of them are in rural areas.

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