Saskatchewan sending 6 intensive care patients to Ontario as ICU challenges continue

Click to play video: 'Saskatchewan sending 6 intensive care patients to Ontario as ICU challenges continue'
Saskatchewan sending 6 intensive care patients to Ontario as ICU challenges continue
Saskatchewan will be sending six intensive care patients to Ontario over the next three days – Oct 18, 2021

Premier Scott Moe has announced the transfer of six Saskatchewan intensive care patients from the province to Ontario.

The premier made the announcement on Monday morning at the Saskatchewan Legislative Building when commenting on the latest on ICU capacity challenges in the province.

Click to play video: 'COVID-19: Saskatchewan to send 6 ICU patients to Ontario'
COVID-19: Saskatchewan to send 6 ICU patients to Ontario

He also shared that the province has submitted a request for additional COVID-19 federal resources to address Saskatchewan’s hospital capacity challenges. The request from the government, SHA and Saskatchewan Emergency Operations Centre calls for skilled individuals who can provide ICU support, including respiratory nurses and perfusionists.

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The transfers, which will see patients delivered to a number of Ontario hospitals, will take place over a 72-hour window.

Ontario Health confirmed to Global News on Wednesday the hospitals that have received patients from Saskatchewan are The Ottawa Hospital, Markham Stouffville Hospital and the North Bay Regional Health Centre,

Ontario Health also said the province is prepared to take up to 12 patients by the end of the week if, if it is needed and requested by the Saskatchewan government.

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The Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) said Monday that patients selected for transfer will be those that are medically stable and appropriate for transfer. A highly-skilled care team will accompany them throughout the duration of the transfer.

Family members of those patients who are moved out of the province will not be able to travel directly with their loved one.

Officials say travel and accommodation costs for two essential family or support people will be covered by the province. Additional details on supports available will be provided directly to affected family members, along with social work and mental health supports being made available to family members as required.

Derek Miller, head of emergency operations for the SHA, said a ballpark cost for one patient transfer trip is around $20,000. He said the Saskatchewan government will assume all medical and transfer costs.

The provincial government will also provide the number of patient transfers to date in its daily public COVID-19 updates.

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A statement distributed on Monday by the SHA said the decision is a result of the prolonged high demand for critical care in Saskatchewan.

Click to play video: 'COVID-19: Saskatchewan to ask federal government for help easing burden on ICUs'
COVID-19: Saskatchewan to ask federal government for help easing burden on ICUs
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The SHA added that this decision is “much more effective to transfer a small number of patients out of province to relieve pressure on the health care system, than it is to secure and relocate highly skilled ICU staff.”

“We recognize the stress this will cause the families affected,” said Scott Livingstone, SHA CEO. “We continue to work every day to maximize capacity to provide care as close to home as possible, but this decision is necessary to maintain the quality of critical care services our patients need. We are extremely thankful to our partners in Ontario for stepping up and providing this support.”

According to the SHA, transfers are being planned jointly with the Ontario Critical Care Command Team and key medical leaders in Saskatchewan. A contracted air transport service, which provides a clinical team, will be in charge of transfers.

Daily assessments of all patients will be handled by a clinical team, which is also designated to analyze the local and overall system capacity at the time the assessments are being made.

Premier Moe noted that more patient transfers could occur with Alberta and Manitoba as discussions continue between those governments. He said they will reassess the ICU situation throughout the week.

Our operation centre has been in constant contact not only with the federal government but with other jurisdictions as to what resources are available for today in our province,” stated Moe.

Reflecting on the provincial government’s decisions so far, the premier admitted that his government could have moved a week sooner on the province’s masking mandate or proof of vaccination policy in order to evade the current amount of stress placed on Saskatchewan’s health-care system at this time.

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Saskatchewan announced a new ICU capacity record of 85 COVID-19-admitted patients on Monday.

The SHA says there are normally 79 ICU beds available in Saskatchewan.

‘This is a necessary step’

Saskatchewan doctors are relieved that space will be made in the province’s ICUs thanks to patient transfers, but some say it’s a direct failure of the government’s handling of the surge in COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations in the province.

Dr. Alexander Wong, an infectious disease physician based in Regina, said it’s disappointing that the situation has reached this point in Saskatchewan, but that it’s a pragmatic move by officials.

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Wong thinks these transfers are imperative since he believes there are not any clear signs of relief or end in sight in terms of ICU capacity at this point.

“Most of our constraints are staffing-related,” discussed Wong. “If something catastrophic happens, like if there’s a big pile up on a highway with multiple victims, then the health system has some ability to absorb those people and do what needs to be done because of these transfers.”

He added that this is not a “too early, too late” approach in this situation, but Wong hoped there would have been steps taken ahead of time to prevent the provincial health-care system from reaching a breaking point.

Dr. Hassan Masri, an ICU physician in Saskatoon, said Saskatchewan health care is already at the point where staff are working through an unofficial triage system.

“We’re not officially at a triage level, but we are at the point where we are making decisions that has the medical community picking and choosing who gets what and who lives or dies,” shared Masri on Monday.

He said the decision to transfer patients out of Saskatchewan is an important step to avoid an official triage system in the province.

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Masri reacted to Monday’s news on his Twitter account where he sometimes shares information and his thoughts regarding COVID-19 in Saskatchewan.

When speaking to Global News about the province asking for federal assistance, Masri said this should have been a decision made earlier.

“The theme of this government is that everything we ask for, we end up getting it, but we end up getting it many weeks or months later,” Masri suggested. “The price for that delay is people dying, people getting infected, the medical system collapsing, outbreaks and cancelled services.

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“All of these things are preventable and could have been preventable with a more proactive, thoughtful and scientific approach rather than one that relies on politics and slogans.”

— With files from Katherine Ward

Click to play video: 'Ontario in process of accepting at least 6 COVID-19 ICU patients from Saskatchewan'
Ontario in process of accepting at least 6 COVID-19 ICU patients from Saskatchewan

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