Saskatchewan promises return of cancelled health-care services to children

·3 min read

REGINA — Saskatchewan's health minister says he has cried a lot throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, but the story that affected him the most was of an 11-month-old whose surgery and physiotherapy were cancelled due to the overloaded health-care system.

Helen Dickson "is a young girl with cute blond hair, just like my daughter (who is) having challenges medically," Paul Merriman said.

He has tried to understand what people are going through and has talked with families of children who have physical or cognitive challenges, he said

"It's not easy."

On Wednesday, Merriman met with Helen and her parents, Graham Dickson and Laura Weins of Saskatoon, at the legislature and offered them an apology and help.

Helen was born prematurely with medical complications and has been waiting for medical appointments.

"I apologized that they're in this circumstance, and I hope to get them out of it as soon as I can," Merriman said.

Before the meeting, Premier Scott Moe announced during question period that health-care services that were cancelled during the province's fourth wave of COVID-19 are to resume soon.

In the past few months, the Saskatchewan Health Authority made cuts to various health-care services so that 600 full-time workers could be redeployed to help with the surge.

Starting next week, half of the workers who are not needed in hospitals are to return to their original positions.Those workers include physiotherapists, who could help Helen build her strength and learn to sit up.

"We're focused on pediatrics and youths, and we will move on from there," Merriman said.

By the following week, about 75 per cent of staff are to return to their jobs, with 90 per cent back by the end of November.

The resumption of services does not include the backlog of 35,000 people waiting for surgery.

Weins, who is a surgeon, said a resumption of services doesn't guarantee help for her daughter.

"There are babies born every day and babies being diagnosed with high needs, and they're waiting too," she said.

"Just because they're saying there's going to be a part-time of resumptions of service in the future -- we don't know where Helen is on that list. We know there are a lot of other kids waiting, and that wait-list has grown."

COVID-19 cases in Saskatchewan have been declining, which is allowing the health authority to bring back services. On Wednesday, the province reported 173 new infections with a total of 1,765 active cases.

There were 226 people with COVID-19 in hospital, including 51 in intensive care.

"We're still not out of the fourth wave, this isn't behind us," Merriman said.

"That's why we're doing it in a staged approach. Because if something happens in two weeks, we may have to adjust."

He added that the province will also bring in private contract tracers to allow for staff to return to their positions.

Dickson said it's been incredibly tough to see his daughter lose her health-care services, as doctors suspect she has cerebral palsy and early intervention, including therapy, was working.

"Every day that goes by, we're missing the opportunity to get her to a place where she needs to be, whether it's to have proper vision, to play sports, or to even walk," Dickson said.

"I worry every day."

But he said he knows he's not alone, and there are families in worse situations.

What he's looking for is an apology from the Saskatchewan Party government for the decisions it has made during the fourth wave, he said

"I would love to see the government care so much about my daughter and the health and well-being of the vulnerable people of this province that they'd stand up, own their mistake, and make an apology," Dickson said.

"I haven't seen any indication that they would do that."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 3, 2021.

Mickey Djuric, The Canadian Press

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