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Saskatchewan NDP blames government for hallway medicine during coronavirus pandemic

Ryan Meili, Saskatchewan's leader of the Opposition, took questions from kids about the novel coronavirus, also known as COVID-19.
The Saskatchewan NDP, led by Ryan Meili, will be in tough against the Saskatchewan Party and Scott Moe, according to experts who spoke to Global News. Connor O'Donovan / Global News

A recently reported instance of hallway medicine highlights the Saskatchewan government’s unpreparedness for coronavirus pressures in hospitals, according to the province’s NDP.

Angela McLean joined members of Saskatchewan’s official opposition Tuesday to decry her immunocompromised friend’s experience at Pasqua Hospital in Regina.

McLean said her friend, who did not want to be identified, spent 24 hours admitted to a hospital hallway in the midst of the pandemic.

Read more: Moe calls outbreak in Hutterite colonies ‘severe,’ active coronavirus cases jump over 300 in Sask.

“They put her in the hallway and just left her in the hallway — completely exposed,” said McLean, who herself reported spending just under a week in a hospital hallway last October.

“I’m appalled and quite concerned that this has happened again.”

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The NDP provided media with a July 27 memo from the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) to staff, noting “bed occupancy continues to increase across the province with a concentration in Saskatoon.”

New Democrat Leader Ryan Meili said the party has heard from physicians facing a “common reality” of patients being admitted to hallways recently.

The problem, according to Meili, is happening in Saskatoon and Regina.

Read more: More help needed for Saskatoon homeless before second COVID-19 wave: advocate

He said hallway medicine is the product of under-funding and under-staffing by the province.

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It’s especially troublesome for people who are immunocompromised, according to Meili, who is also a medical doctor.

Patients have no knowledge of whether others have COVID-19 or not, particularly if they are asymptomatic, he said.

“The worst possible approach right now would be for the premier and minister of health to act like this is over when we can see that the cases are rising,” Meili said.

The health authority memo also notes most testing sites are running at maximum capacity.

Meili also called on the government to boost funding and staff to address capacity concerns. He said dedicated mental health emergency rooms and improved home care options would ease the burden on hospitals.

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Read more: Saskatchewan getting more transparent on spread of COVID-19: privacy commissioner

Health Minister Jim Reiter rejected the NDP’s position in a statement.

“The accusation from the NDP today is wrong,” Reiter said, saying the provincial government has increased health-care funding by 65 per cent since 2007 and recently added 36 beds to Saskatoon’s Royal University Hospital.

He acknowledged “many complex issues which all provinces are grappling with,” but said the health system has prepared and adapted to the challenge.

In a statement, SHA spokesperson Doug Dahl acknowledged increased pressure on hospitals, but said procedures exist to manage the patient load.

He used the example of critical care units in Saskatoon, which saw high demand for beds last week. Staff enacted a “bypass mechanism,” he said.

Read more: 17th coronavirus-related death reported in Saskatchewan, tests drop by nearly half

“This allowed the system to redirect adult critical care to other appropriate units provincially when those services were required for patients who may normally be referred into Saskatoon ICU’s,” he said.

Dahl noted the province’s health system needs to respond to demand for beds, including through the possible use of field hospitals if needed.

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