Sask. Health Authority shifts staff away from contact tracing as dropping COVID-19 case numbers lower demand

As the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) prepares to send hundreds of healthcare workers back to their original jobs, the government is looking to fill some holes left behind.

Roughly 860 healthcare workers were redeployed to help with the COVID-19 response.

According to the SHA, nearly 450 were shifted to contact tracing, testing and outbreak management.

Over the next three weeks, the majority of those will be deployed back to their departments, which will allow for pediatric and youth services to resume. However, the SHA says there is no particular order for when the rest of the services will resume.

“We will be managing which services we can fully or partially resume based on the staff that are available,” said Derek Miller, the emergency operations centre commander with the SHA.

The remaining 400 SHA staff will continue to work in acute care, ICUs and vaccination sites for as long as they are needed.

Saskatchewan’s chief medical health officer says the demand for contact tracing is dependent on the number of new cases and the number of contacts from each case.

Dr. Saqib Shahab encourages everyone to lower their close contacts through masks, social distancing and small gathering sizes.

However, as new case numbers continue to drop, so does the demand for contact tracing.

“While our new case numbers are trending down, our acute care and ICU admissions will take longer to trend down and our case numbers are still high enough to generate ongoing hospitalizations,” said Shahab.

Redeployed healthcare workers, public servants and Statistics Canada employees are baring the brunt of contact tracing.

The government is now looking to secure more private workers to help meet demand once those frontline workers go back to their original jobs.

Premier Scott Moe says procuring some private companies has already allowed the province to free up resources.

“What private procurement in testing and contact tracing has allowed us to do is to pull those services back sooner rather than later,” Moe said.

However, the official opposition worries that private procurement could lead to more for-profit services in the future.

“I am deeply concerned that Scott Moe will try to take advantage of a crisis to further privatize our system,” said NDP leader Ryan Meili.

“When you introduce private for-profit care, wait times in the public system just continue to grow.”

If cases spike, the SHA says it is working on a plan to meet healthcare demands while maintaining as many services as possible.

However, there is no specific case count or ICU volume that would trigger redeployment.