Saskatchewan Health Authority working to alleviate pressure on emergency rooms

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WATCH: Emergency rooms in urban centres are backed up, and the Saskatchewan Health Authority has pinpointed why. – Feb 27, 2020

From improving mental health and addiction support to increasing staff for Saskatoon hospitals, a new report from the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) highlights actions that need to be taken to put less pressure on emergency rooms in the province.

The report, dated Feb. 27, was written by the SHA’s CEO Scott Livingstone and addressed to Health Minister Jim Reiter. It comes after a review of the province’s capacity issues at hospitals in Saskatoon and Regina, which offer highly specialized forms of care.

“Pressure on these types of facilities and their emergency departments has been a chronic challenge for many years, not just in Saskatchewan but across Canada,” Livingstone wrote in the letter.

He called for government funding to keep pace with the province’s growth while addressing gaps in the healthcare system.

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There continues to be an increase in patient demand, the report says. Many of those patients’ needs are not acute and could be met outside of an ER, Livingstone said.

This, combined with delays along the care pathway and challenges with transferring patients out of hospitals, has led to congested facilities.

According to the review, patients — especially those in rural areas — need better community supports to help them live independently in their homes while accessing care in their community.

Rural residents are often referred to big-city hospitals, even if there are adequate services in their home communities, Livingstone said.

“We have patients coming into Saskatoon and Regina that are driving by other facilities where there are beds open,” he told reporters on Thursday.

“We now have a single provincial lens on provincial capacity. And it’s not just making … the clinicians in rural Saskatchewan available in their own communities. It’s also ensuring that we’re utilizing the right resources for the needs of the patients.”

If the health authority can provide virtual care to rural residents, it will reduce pressure on urban centres, he said. Right now, Saskatchewan delivers virtual care to just one per cent of patients, according to the SHA.

Livingstone said new technology should be adopted to improve data sharing across the healthcare system, better connecting care between rural and urban centres.

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The review recommends extending the availability of certain medical services to seven days a week. This will prevent the bottlenecking of patients on weekdays and backlogs of patients on weekends.

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To reduce capacity issues, mental health and substance abuse issues must also be addressed, the report says.

Livingstone recommended increasing staff for children and youth with mental issues while training health care professionals to treat crystal meth and opioid addictions. Rapid access to addiction medicine is also needed.

“While we know that addressing these issues will require significant time and effort, we have already initiated a significant number of actions that we are confident will yield results,” Livingstone’s letter says.

He said barriers between regions and programs need to be resolved, which will take time.

“With the creation of the Saskatchewan Health Authority, we are now better positioned than ever to support the change needed to optimize the patient experience in Saskatchewan and stabilize services by better-utilizing capacity in rural and remote areas.”

-With files from Anna McMillan.

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