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Staff shortages plaguing Saskatchewan’s health care system

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Staff shortages plaguing Saskatchewan’s health care system
The Saskatchewan healthcare system is at a critical crossroads. COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations are trending upwards yet again — just ahead of fall and kids returning to school. As Tanner Chubey reports, it's causing burnout for an already thin frontline. – Aug 23, 2022

Saskatchewan’s health-care system is at a critical crossroads, experts say.

“I think my hours are up probably 10 to 20 per cent this year over last year,” says Dr. Adam Ogieglo, a family doctor at Lakeside Medical Clinic. “So I’ve been working that much more.”

Dr. Ogieglo says he contracted COVID-19 about three weeks ago, and it has since slowly rolled through his household. He and his family had planned to vacation down to the United States during that time, but now he’s spending it working due to being short staffed of doctor’s in similar situations.

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“A sense of frustration that we’re just sort of saying, ‘Oh well, this is the way it’s going to be.’ We’re all going to be working short-staffed, and are going to be sick more often, and just really sort of letting COVID rip is kind of the approach we’re taking,” Ogieglo said.

“I just wish we maybe had a higher-level discussion and maybe decide to take a different path.”

Saskatchewan is dealing with a backlog of surgeries largely due to the pandemic. Last week the area department lead of surgery in Saskatoon, Dr. Bill Dust, said the province is facing a nursing and anesthesiologist shortage, and it isn’t helping.

Read more: Saskatchewan to send patients to Alberta for privatized surgery, won’t pay for travel

“We do have advertisements in place, and we are interviewing for anesthesiologists who need to be recruited, especially outside of the tertiary care centres, the larger centres such as Regina and Saskatoon,” says Dr. Mateen Raazi, the provincial head for anesthesiology for the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) and University of Saskatchewan.

“Some of the regional centres — and I will maybe mention Swift Current, Moose Jaw, Yorkton — are definitely in need of more anesthesiologists,” Dr. Raazi adds.

The province said last week it will be sending people to Alberta to get privatized surgeries, but the cost of travel won’t be covered.

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“Currently we have, I would say across the province at least five or six (anesthesiologist) positions that we’ve advertised,” explains Dr. Raazi. “This is in the context of a department which across the province has at least 110 to 120 members.”

A shortage of nurses is also causing a strain not only on surgery wait times, but on the emergency room as well. Saskatchewan Union of Nurses (SUN) president Tracy Zambory says nurses are suffering terribly right now.

“We talk about the system being on the verge of collapse,” Zambory said. “Well, in the emergency rooms they have collapsed. The system has collapsed.”

Zambory goes on to claim this collapse is leading to “unsustainable” burnout.

“When I have registered nurses telling me they’re having panic attacks because they know they left a very critical situation in their workplace, but they already stayed three hours overtime — we have people working crazy amounts of overtime — that’s not sustainable, absolutely not sustainable. That’s going to lead to even more burnout, more depression, more patient harm.”

SUN also says the emergency rooms are currently out of control.

Read more: Saskatchewan’s wastewater levels remain high, may have reached plateau, expert says

“We’ve got 40, 50 deep in the waiting room, people so acutely ill coming in. We have stretchers lined up in the hallway, we have EMS not able to get out because they’re in the hallway with patients, the same for STARS Ambulance,” says Zambory.

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These staffing shortages and constant stress are making some experts in the industry advocate for a change in the system.

“There needs to be reforms and there needs to be huge investments made to sort of dig us out of this hole that we sort of found ourselves in,” says Dr. Ogieglo.

In a report from Aug. 18, data shows COVID-19 positivity rates, hospital and ICU admissions increased between July 17 and Aug. 13. Many experts predict those numbers to grow as Saskatchewan enters its seventh wave. People are reminded to get their booster doses if they haven’t already, and think hard before visiting an emergency room.

“The emergency room is not a place to come and get a diagnosis, the emergency room is a place to come when your life is in danger,” concluded Zambory.

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