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COVID-19 surge in Saskatchewan straining health-care system, organ donations paused

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WATCH: Some elective surgeries and other non-urgent services are being postponed and doctors are now facing impossible choices as COVID-19 cases surge in Saskatchewan – Sep 24, 2021

Dr. Susan Shaw says people are dying in Saskatchewan from a largely preventable disease.

Shaw made the statement as the Saskatchewan Health Authority says it continues to deal with a surge in COVID-19 patients.

“I work in the ICU and it’s already heart-wrenching to watch people die from a largely preventable disease,” said Shaw, the SHA’s chief medical health officer, during a conference call Thursday.

“And to add to that heartache, any need to make decisions about lifesaving care for all of Saskatchewan residents, only builds and adds to that tragedy.”

Read more: Declared COVID-19 outbreaks in Saskatchewan

The SHA is also suspending its organ donation program and continues to implement a full slowdown of all elective procedures without delay.

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Lori Garchinski, the SHA’s director of tertiary care, said if someone who is a registered organ donor dies, their organ will not be gifted to someone on the waiting list.

“Unfortunately, that has been one of the side effects of the surge capacity management that we’ve had to do to support ICU care in the province,” Garchinski said during a conference call Thursday.

She said the SHA will still provide immediate tissue donation.

Derek Miller said the health-care system could be caring for 125 intensive care patients and 350 acute care patients in the coming weeks.

“Right now we know that over 70 per cent of our ICU beds are being used to care for a single preventable disease — COVID,” said Miller, the SHA’s emergency operations centre commander.

“And at the same time, we need to ensure we have 50 ICU beds staffed to care for non-COVID patients who are not in control of needing critical care.”

Read more: Sask. doctors feel slighted by premier’s ‘engaging’ message

Miller said as part of the surge capacity, 58 adult medicine beds have been added to the system — 36 in Saskatoon and 22 in Regina.

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Shaw said the number of hospitalizations is rising rapidly.

As of Thursday, 273 COVID patients were being treated in hospital, 58 of whom were in intensive care.

“People who have chosen to remain unvaccinated are six times more likely to test positive, six times more likely to be hospitalized and 12 times more likely to be admitted to an intensive care unit,” said Shaw.

“More than 70 per cent of our ICU patients are admitted fighting for their lives to a single preventable diagnosis – severe COVID pneumonia with lung failure.”

Shaw called on people to get vaccinated, saying the health-care system could manage demands if people who are eligible got both doses.

“Instead, we are facing service slowdowns … and this is having a real impact on the quality of life and health for many across this region, and it will result in real harm,” she said.

“But worse, if this continues, the lifesaving supports all Saskatchewan citizens rely on will be in danger.”

Miller said while the health authority is looking to slow down elective procedures, some will still go ahead.

“We are continuing to provide emergent cancer and six-week urgent surgeries and procedures. And so that’s being implemented as we speak,’ he said.

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“I will also say there are many other services in the community and primary health care and other outpatient services that are also being slowed as part of this in order to free up staff so that they can be deployed perhaps into the acute care, but then also into our testing sites.”

Shaw emphasized that while elective does not mean unnecessary, it means the surgery is not urgent.

She said this places a burden on many people.

“We are slowing down services that are going to impact you or somebody you know, not because we want to, but because we have no choice,” Shaw said.

“We have people presenting with severe COVID and without that care, we know that they would not do well. They would literally die.

“We don’t have a choice. We have to be ready and able to look after those people recognizing the massive impact on the health and wellness of the rest of the province.”

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