“Saskatchewan’s tertiary care hospitals continue to experience significant capacity challenges,” read a statement from a SHA spokesperson. It also said the “adult and pediatric emergency departments in Saskatoon receives patients from throughout the province.”
In early November, leaked internal emails showed an overcapacity crisis in Saskatoon’s ERs. The president of the Saskatchewan nurses’ union told Global News that a death at Royal University Hospital’s (RUH) the emergency room was caused by overcapacity.
The crisis started barely two months after a new ER opened at RUH.
The SHA spokesperson said the new space was more than two and a half times larger than the previous space but told Global News that it only has six additional beds. The extra space was divided up between more private assessment and treatment rooms, as well as a larger ambulance bay and trauma zone.
On Tuesday, the health authority said in a statement that it is “starting to see some positive examples of the work underway in community to care for patients to avoid an acute episode.”
Rosalie Wyonch, a health care analyst with the CD Howe Institute, said pressure on the system can be reduced by steering patients away from the ER unless they need critical care.
“When we see overcapacity in a hospital then the question we should really be asking from a management perspective is ‘how many of those patients could we treat elsewhere?’ And then ‘how do we get them that treatment?’” Wyonch said in Toronto.
“It can be the case that there are simply beds being occupied in hospitals by patients that are simply waiting for a space in a long-term care home … we need to get those people to community care or long-term care and then free up that bed.”
The overcapacity crisis comes ahead of a major demographic challenge. About 30 per cent of Saskatoon’s population is 50 or older, according to the 2016 Canadian Census. Across the province, that number rises to 34 per cent.
“As the baby boomers age, that demographic shift is putting upward pressure on per capita health care spending,” Wyonch said.
“We need to look at how we’re going to deliver that care looking beyond hospitals or particularly long-term care homes and thinking a lot more about how we can actually prevent people from getting to a state of bad health.”
Wyonch said the public needs to be educated about when a trip to the ER is necessary and that options like homecare and after-hours clinics need to be explored.
The ministry said the government “is investing in a connected care strategy which aims to reduce reliance on emergency departments and reduce wait times by enhancing community services.”
Wyonch said provincial governments should have begun planning for older generations’ increased use of healthcare services “about a decade ago.”
The SHA statement noted that 36 additional permanent acute care beds are expected to be opened at RUH in early 2020.