91 patients in Sask. ICUs, 22 more in Ontario as out-of-province transfer slowdown expected

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A patient from Saskatchewan is transferred from an air ambulance to a waiting Peel Region ambulance at Pearson airport in Toronto, on Wednesday. The Ontario Critical Care COVID Command Centre is transporting COVID-19 patients to Ontario ICUs to alleviate strain on the Saskatchewan health-care system. (Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit)
A patient from Saskatchewan is transferred from an air ambulance to a waiting Peel Region ambulance at Pearson airport in Toronto, on Wednesday. The Ontario Critical Care COVID Command Centre is transporting COVID-19 patients to Ontario ICUs to alleviate strain on the Saskatchewan health-care system. (Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit)

The number of Saskatchewan patients under intensive care depends on how you look at it.

A total of 91 people — 54 patients with COVID-19 and 37 who don't have the disease — were in Saskatchewan ICUs as of Friday morning.

But an additional 22 ICU patients who had been in Saskatchewan are under intensive care in Ontario, after being flown out amid a fourth-wave bed crunch in Saskatchewan, according to an update from the province's public safety agency.

Another six Saskatchewan patients are expected to be transferred over Friday, Saturday and Sunday — two per day.

Then things might change.

"We have no plan [for transfers] past Sunday," said Marlo Pritchard, the president of the Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency — which has taken over the regular COVID-19 news conferences from the provincial government.

Pritchard said Friday that decreases in COVID-19 numbers across Saskatchewan, "along with the arrival of additional federal resources and our increasing capacity within the health-care system," mean the practice of daily patient transfers is expected to decline and move to "intermittent schedules after Sunday."

The fact Ontario is only able to take in 30 patients is also a factor, he said.

However, Pritchard was quick to caution that the situation would monitored on a daily basis.

"We will transfer patients as needed," he said.

Occupied bed count declines

After more than a week of transfers — as well as continued COVID-19 deaths in the province, including 11 reported on Thursday — the number of occupied ICU beds within Saskatchewan has dropped substantially.

As of Monday, Saskatchewan had a total of 116 ICU patients: 71 with COVID-19 and 45 without.

That's well above the province's normal baseline of 79 ICU beds, a number Premier Scott Moe says the government is reconsidering in light of significant staff redeployments and service slowdowns, made necessary when the fourth wave overwhelmed hospitals.

By Friday, the total number of ICU patients in Saskatchewan had decreased by 22 per cent to 91: 54 people with COVID and 37 without.

CBC
CBC

Pritchard said the province was tentatively expecting one Saskatchewan patient who had been moved to Ontario to be brought back later on Friday — a process he referred to as "repatriation."

The CEO of the Saskatchewan Health Authority — the operational arm of the province's health-care system — explained that repatriated patients no longer need to be in ICU but would be readmitted to a Saskatchewan hospital because they still need care.

"Once they are downgraded and move to the ward in Ontario, the repatriation process starts with a target of a 24- to 48-hour turnaround," Scott Livingstone said.

Status of surgeries

Livingstone also gave an update on health-care service slowdowns — including cancelled surgeries — that have been the end result of moving health-care workers around to cope with the recent increase in ICU patients.

Livingstone said some staff child psychologists and others who work in some early childhood development programs have been redeployed to help with contact tracing efforts.

But he said the health authority has been able to proceed with about half of scheduled elective surgeries.

"All surgeries did not stop," he said.

More recently, as the overall number of COVID-19 hospitalizations has decreased, "those folks that require an ICU bed post-surgery are starting to slowly receive that surgery within appropriate time frames," he said.

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