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‘System is creaking’: Unvaccinated COVID-19 patients overwhelm Saskatchewan hospitals

A RN draws the vaccine into a syringe at the Saskatoon Tribal Council run vaccination clinic inside SaskTel Centre on April 15, 2021. Kayle Neis / The Canadian Press

For the fifth time this month, Saskatchewan has set a new record for the most COVID-19 patients in its intensive care units — most of whom are unvaccinated.

The province says there are 80 people with the virus in its ICUs, which is more than its baseline capacity.

Read more: What impacts will Thanksgiving weekend gatherings have on Saskatchewan’s 4th COVID wave?

Saskatchewan normally has 79 ICU beds across the province, but the health authority says it has been making space for 100 additional beds in recent weeks.

The health authority says it is also facing a major shortage of front-line workers.

During a Saskatchewan Health Authority meeting last week, deputy chief medical officer Dr. John Froh said people’s level of care is at risk.

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“Something has to give and care will deteriorate. Nurse-to-patient ratios will deteriorate, and at some point we will need to decant patients, which would mean transferring them to other jurisdictions,” Froh said.

On Tuesday the province reported 348 COVID-19 patients in hospital, 271 new cases and two more deaths.

Froh said last week there were about 40 people who were in other wards of hospitals receiving high levels of oxygen as they waited for an ICU bed.

“They’re all ICU candidates, and that’s something we have to keep in mind,” Froh said.

Read more: Parents concerned about COVID-19 in schools, 8 in 10 support mask mandates: survey

Based on the province’s daily case numbers, Froh said Saskatchewan has not turned a corner.

He projected hospitalizations and ICU admissions will continue to rise in the weeks ahead, stretching already limited resources.

“The system is creaking. It’s shuddering under the burden, and the burden will grow,” Froh said.

According to data from the Saskatchewan Health Authority, hospitalizations in Saskatchewan have tripled since Aug. 30.

The SHA meeting noted some patients in Saskatoon are waiting up to 53 hours in the emergency department for a bed. And patients being brought in by ambulance are waiting eight hours on a stretcher.

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In order to preserve health-care workers, the province has cancelled all of its elective surgeries and has begun reducing critical surgeries for open heart and neuro patients.

Chief medical officer for the health authority, Dr. Susan Shaw, said she anticipates the province will soon move to additional triaging due to the strain on the health-care system.

“I remain incredibly fearful, and I think it’s becoming more real that we will have to move into our triage framework. I don’t want to. I want to be wrong,” Shaw said at the SHA meeting. “I’m finding it hard to find a path that doesn’t get us there, and I’m sorry for that.”

On Tuesday, Ottawa reiterated its offer to help Saskatchewan with personnel by way of the military or the Canadian Red Cross.

As of Tuesday afternoon, Saskatchewan had not formally applied for assistance according to the federal government.

A spokesperson for Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Health said its emergency operations centre will provide more information regarding federal assistance on Wednesday.

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