Sask. healthcare system 'creaking' amid fourth wave

Healthcare workers in Saskatchewan are having to choose who gets appropriate critical care and which patients will receive care on the hospital floor.

It’s a glimpse into what the current COVID-19 situation looks like in the province.

“The system is creaking, we’re at the level of the pandemic where it is really taxing our system,” said Dr. John Froh, deputy chief medical health officer with the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA).

“It’s shuddering under the burden and the burden will grow.”

Froh’s commentary came during the SHA’s weekly physician town hall on Oct. 7.

Froh said Saskatchewan is well into the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and the surge in cases is being driven by the Delta variant.

Saskatchewan’s ICU pressures have the healthcare system moving from the yellow to red zone, he said.

That means the limited healthcare staff are providing substandard care for patients in critical need and/or at risk of death, more service slowdowns, an increase in preventable deaths and the possibility of transporting ICU patients out of province, he said.

“We continue to grow in terms of cases and we haven’t turned a corner."

The physician town hall offered some bleak predictions when it comes to ICU admissions in the coming weeks.

As of the town hall on Oct. 7, the SHA reported the total number of ICU patients across the province at 114, of which 79 patients were diagnosed with COVID-19.

SHA projections show ICU capacity for COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 patients could exceed 115 beds by Sunday - and the province could eclipse 125 ICU beds by Oct. 24.

“I know we’ll be sending patients out of province,” said Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Susan Shaw.

The province broke records each day last week in terms of new cases, hospitalizations and ICU admissions.

Shaw noted one patient is receiving care on the hospital floor, hooked up to high-flow oxygen.

“I know they’re getting excellent care on the floor but it’s not the standard we want to provide,” Shaw said.

Shaw said the possibility of Saskatchewan’s healthcare system moving towards triage protocols is becoming more real.

“I'm finding it hard to find a path that doesn't get us there,” Shaw said.

She also noted with Saskatchewan adding 450 new COVID-19 cases every day, many will need care in a hospital.

“And a percentage of those are going to need ICU,” she said.

The physician town hall also heard how 55 per cent of patients with COVID-19 had their first diagnosis with a test in the emergency room or ICU.

“So we don't have a window to do a lot of early intervention,” Shaw said.

On the immunization front, 80.1 per cent of eligible Saskatchewan residents have received a first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, last among the provinces.

74.9 per cent have received two vaccines, the second-lowest mark in Canada, just ahead of Alberta.