The Saskatchewan Health Authority says it is moving to its next level of surge plans due to rapidly escalating COVID-19 pressures on hospitals in the province.
The SHA’s Emergency Operations Centre said it has directed leaders and care teams to activate the second phase of surge plans, including a temporary slowdown of elective procedures.
The temporary slowdown will assist in shuffling healthcare workers to the most critical areas including ICU and COVID-19 testing within the next few days.
“We have hit a critical point, and are now on the verge of the largest test our health care system has faced since this pandemic began,” SHA chief executive Scott Livingstone said Friday.
“Teams are being asked to support the health care system’s ability to maintain services to those at greatest risk, while ensuring the SHA can support testing and contact tracing to help slow the spread of COVID-19.”
The directive sets new surge targets for intensive care and hospital capacity, including surging from a baseline of 79 intensive care unit beds up to 175 beds.
The SHA said this is to accommodate a new projection of 125 COVID-19 ICU patients while ensuring capacity for 50 non-COVID-19 patients.
It will also flex up capacity across the province to provide care for 350 non-ICU COVID-19 patients — up from 255.
“The danger we face is that this will escalate to the point where many Saskatchewan residents won’t be able to access critical care or emergency services,” Livingstone said Friday. “That point is not far off, in fact we already know our emergency rooms and ICUs are operating over capacity.”
In cities where ICU beds are not available such as Saskatoon, patients are already being sent to other hospitals across Saskatchewan.
Livingstone added the pressure being felt by the province’s health-care system is a direct result of the “ongoing pandemic of the unvaccinated.”
“The result is that many Saskatchewan residents will now go without the health services they need to preserve their quality of life,” he said, and urged everyone to get vaccinated.
“To do otherwise is to risk making a choice for all Saskatchewan residents about whether the emergency and critical services will be there for them when they need it.”
SHA officials say anyone in need of emergency, critical care or mental health services will still have full access during this new phase, and say the impacts of slowdowns may be felt within the next few weeks.
The directive also asks teams to focus support on COVID-19 care while continuing to support emergency care, cancer treatments and procedures and cases deemed urgent over the next six weeks.
The SHA said criteria are being established to determine what procedures will be temporarily paused and those patients affected will be contacted.
The surge plans will require patient transfers and the SHA said individuals may be transferred to facilities that may not match their preference or be close to their home.
Staff are also being deployed to areas of the province facing urgent and emergent care demands to provide immediate relief and escalate capacity.
The SHA said teams will work to implement load levelling processes within and across all acute care and ICU sites in the province.
– With files from Emily Olsen