Two Saskatoon hospitals were at capacity on Sunday and couldn’t take on more patients, an internal message shows.
A Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) email, obtained by Global News, states St Paul’s Hospital and Royal University Hospital (RUH), the largest in the city, could not admit more patients on Jan. 16.
“The current bed situation is very concerning with 19 admissions pending at St. Paul’s Hospital and 20 at RUH (ANB – admit no beds),” it states.
Addressed to all Saskatoon physicians, it asked doctors to re-evaluate their admitted patients and discharge anyone who could be sent home to free up hospital beds for those waiting in the emergency department.
In a statement on Monday, an SHA spokesperson said the message — which was labelled “URGENT – Admit No Beds” — was part of “a regular process that occurs in similar situations where capacity is challenged.”
“As we continue to move through the Omicron wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, we will continue to focus on how we can optimize patient flow as part of our surge planning,” Amanda Purcell wrote, adding that admissions fluctuate by the hour.
167 people were in hospital across the province as of Monday, an increase of five over the day prior.
The head of the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses said the health authority and province may have surge plans but has no capacity.
“We’re at crisis levels and have been for quite some time,” Tracy Zambory said.
She told Global News that health-care workers and the health-care system are struggling to keep up with the amount of patients with COVID-19 infections, chronic ailments that need treatment and addictions issues.
The pressure is falling on staff in the emergency rooms since that is usually a patient’s first point of contact with the hospital system, Zambory said.
But the strain will spread to other departments as staff redirect patients for further treatment.
It will also add to the pandemic-sized burden health-care workers have been shouldering for two years.
“(Registered nurses) are feeling unheard, they’re feeling defeated and demoralized,” Zambory said.
Nazeem Muhajarine, an epidemiologist at the University of Saskatchewan, said the strain will keep getting worse in the near future.
He said hospitalizations in Saskatchewan are only lower than in other provinces because Omicron spread to those places first.
The new variant, he said, will infect a huge number of people and cause a huge number of cases.
“Some of them are going to be needing hospital care,” he said in an interview.
While studies show people infected with Omicron typically require less care than a Delta-infected patient, the health-care system is still recovering from the previous wave.
Both Muhajarine and Zambory said the Saskatchewan government should impose gathering restrictions to help health-care workers.
Muhajarine said those restrictions would provide some relief, so long as the government introduces them in the next seven to 10 days.
He said it’s important to avoid straining hospitals and staff as severely as they were during the fourth wave because people will need care for things besides COVID.
Zambory said health-care workers need help.
Global News contacted the government for comment but did not receive a response by deadline.
The Saskatchewan government personnel have repeatedly stated they won’t impose new restrictions and will instead focus on hospitalizations.
“We know what’s going to happen,” Zambory said.
“We’re going to have needless suffering and potential death. That’s what’s going to happen.”