Sask. health-care system must adapt to lasting COVID-19 effects: doctor

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Saskatchewan health-care system must adapt to COVID-19 effects: doctor
WATCH: Saskatchewan's health-care system was already running close to capacity before the COVID-19 pandemic. – Jan 2, 2021

A doctor and a health-care policy consultant said COVID-19 could have a lasting impact on Saskatchewan’s health-care system and the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) will need to adapt.

The system was already close to or at capacity before the coronavirus pandemic, the consultant said, and will soon have to take on the strain of two new populations who will likely need more care — baby boomers and COVID-19 long-haulers.

“I do think that our system is going to go through a period of challenge to actually adjust to what we might consider the new normal,” Dr. Dennis Kendel told Global News.

Kendel is a former president of medical staff at St. Paul’s Hospital in Saskatoon, of the Saskatchewan Medical Association and of the Medical Council of Canada. He’s also held positions in a variety of other medical organizations.

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He said the province’s health-care system will need to adapt to be able to handle the larger burden caused by more patients.

He said the SHA needs to focus on delivering service to people where and when they need it — and that the health authority should continue looking into online medical care.

“Obviously, there’s some services you have to be physically present to receive. But if you can deliver a lot of services virtually, that that may increase our efficiency,” he said, speaking via Zoom.

That’s important in a province that’s as sparsely populated as Saskatchewan is, especially when it appears more people will need medical help.

Baby boomers, which Statistics Canada defines as someone born between 1946 and 1965, are reaching the ages where they will likely need more medical attention.

And some people who contracted COVID-19 continue to suffer from it, even after they recover.

Former patients report being easily tired, memory loss and “brain fog.”

And the World Health Organization found the disease can damage an infected person’s lungs, kidneys and heart.

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On top of that, The Lancet, a peer-reviewed medical journal, reported COVID-19 patients suffering strokes in their 50s.

“If you get a chronic illness following this [organ damage caused by COVID-19] that impairs your functionality, that certainly will have impact long term on the health-care system,” Kendel said.

He said it wasn’t clear if the costs of a busier health-care system would substantially increase once everyone is vaccinated, requiring higher taxes, though he predicted higher demand on the medical system.

He told Global News a focus on community-based health care that keeps people out of hospitals unless they need that level of help and better medical education in the general population would help ease the strain in the future.

He also said making the healthcare system more equitable would lower the cost.

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A huge portion of that, he said, is recognizing people with less money typically have worse health than those with more money. The pandemic exacerbated both measures.

“Homelessness costs us a lot of money in health care. It costs way more money than actually finding housing for people,” he said.

“We need to actually move upstream and try and mitigate those risks.”

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