This story has been updated with a statement from the Saskatchewan Ministry of Health.
Helen’s giggle will melt you.
In videos shared with Global News by her parents, the one-year-old squeals when lifted in the air by her father, Graham Dickson.
Her mom, Laura Weins, said they “love her to pieces,” but when asked about her future she used words like “anxious” and “concerned.”
“It’s hard not to look at her and just be scared for the future,” Weins said.
Helen likely has cerebral palsy.
An official diagnosis for the condition usually takes place around age two, but Helen needs care now to prevent her current afflictions from having long-term consequences.
Helen had to go without hospital care or any of her appointments for months when the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) postponed and cancelled treatments in September, in order to reassign staff to better help during the fourth wave of COVID-19.
The fourth wave has largely passed and hospitals — as well as intensive care units — are slowly emptying out. As they do, the SHA is reassigning staff back to their home positions, which allows services to resume. More than 93 per cent of eligible staff have returned to their home position as of Tuesday.
But Weins is still worried Helen won’t receive the care she needs. Weins hasn’t heard when her daughter will receive the surgery she needs to correct her eyes, which are currently crossed, or the MRI she needs to help with her diagnosis and to plan future treatments.
Thousands of people in the province are waiting for procedures. By the time they get to Helen, Weins worries it will be too late.
“The silence is hard,” Weins said.
This is despite the fact that more than 70 per cent of SHA services have fully resumed and 15 per cent have been partially resumed, according to numbers Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency president Marlo Pritchard mentioned during Tuesday provincial emergency operations centre (PEOC) briefing.
It’s also despite the fact the SHA has proceeded into the second phase of its plan to move employees back to their home positions, wherein health-care workers who were reassigned to help bolter ICUs and acute care treatment have returned. Previously only those who didn’t directly help ICUs and acute care were moved back.
“At this point we are moving forward more aggressively with returning staff to their home units from acute and ICUs as we’ve been able to, based on the number slowly going down,” SHA emergency operations director Derek Miller said, on the PEOC technical briefing.
Global News spoke to Weins on Monday, shortly after she and Helen returned from Helen’s first physiotherapy treatment since September — the only service Helen needs that has resumed so far.
“We did a little ‘woo hoo’ momentum in the kitchen, all of us, and we’re pretty excited to be back,” Weins said, describing the moment she learned about the physio appointment.
At that session, specialists recommended Helen also get a hearing test and an EEG, the latter which would help monitor her brain activity. Doctors caring for her believe she may have suffered a stroke in utero.
Weins said she doesn’t know when those appointments could be booked, which delays further treatment.
“We’re waiting to go back and see the pediatric neurologist, but the pediatric neurologist needs that MRI information in order to be able to report something back to us,” Weins said.
Global News asked the PEOC, the SHA and the Ministry of Health on Monday via email when the services Helen needs would resume, how big the backlog for those services is and how long it will take to move through it.
A SHA spokesperson responded with a link to a Nov. 26 document that showed how far along medical services were to having eligible staff returned.
“Regina and Saskatoon are delayed in surgical reopening due to the need to maintain care for hospitalized and ICU patients,” it states.
“Saskatoon has reached 80 per cent and Regina 60 per cent… There are approximately 20 vacant positions in the (operating room) in Regina. Even with redeployed staff back, resumption to 100% will take time.”
Weins lives in Saskatoon.
The SHA spokesperson did not answer the questions about backlogs and wait times.
“Any further questions on this can be directed to the upcoming PEOC technical media briefing, slated for tomorrow,” they wrote.
Global News asked government officials, including chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab, Miller, Pritchard and several others leaders involved with the province’s COVID-19 response when the services would resume and when the backlog would be cleared.
Jay Teneycke, a government director of communications, answered.
“Regarding questions about specific surgeries and functions of that, I would encourage everyone just to stay tuned on that one and a plan related to that will be released in short order,” he said.
Global News asked why a spokesperson said the questions would be answered today when the officials were again not answering.
“I would just encourage everyone to kind of wait for further announcements related to those specific aspects,” Teneycke responded.
Global News asked when that plan would be released.
“In the days ahead,” was Teneycke’s response.
In a later email, a health ministry spokesperson said the ministry and SHA “are committed to looking at innovative ways to increase surgical capacity in order to eliminate the backlog of surgeries as quickly as possible.”
The statement did not provide any estimate but said the number of eye surgeries performed will increase as the number of surgeries taking place in November and December increases.
It also said the government is looking to achieve a three-month wait time for surgery by 2030.
Weins is a doctor herself, an obstetrician and gynecologist. She knows first-hand how backed up the health-care system is and how long it can take to clear it.
She said a patient who had waited months for surgery finally had a procedure booked.
“Unfortunately, on point of care testing, when she came in for the hospital, she tested positive for COVID. So … she was sent home and that time then just got used by no one,” Weins said.
She said she may have to seek care for her daughter either outside the province or outside the country.
“Is it going to affect the rest of her life?” she worried.
“Is it going to affect her ability to read or to see… or is the delay in an MRI going to affect her ability to walk someday?”
— with files from the Canadian Press