Federal health minister Patty Hajdu says Ottawa is ready to help Saskatchewan deal with its COVID-19 surge, but it remains unclear whether the province will formally ask for assistance.
COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in Saskatchewan continue to climb, which have caused a number of disruptions in the province's health-care system, including the halting of the organ donation program and cancer treatments.
In a tweet on Friday, Hajdu said she spoke with Saskatchewan health minister Paul Merriman and "ensured he knows that the federal government will be there to help the people of Saskatchewan in this health crisis. We stand ready to help wherever we are needed."
Hajdu told CBC News on Sunday that Saskatchewan has not yet formally requested federal aid but that "we'll be ready as soon as they trigger that request."
The federal government has said it will pitch in after Alberta asked for help with airlifting COVID-19 patients, ICU-registered nurses and respiratory therapists.
Hajdu did not say whether she or Merriman initiated the call on Friday.
"I was very interested in reconnecting with the ministers in particular with some of the provinces that are seeing the kinds of health-care crises that we're seeing in the west and certainly with the provinces that are having increased caseloads," Hajdu said.
"Mr. Merriman and I have had a very good working relationship. So the meeting, I think, was appreciated by both of us."
Contact tracers, health-care workers
Hajdu says some supports are already in place, such as funding for safe isolation sites and 63 federal contact tracers. She said the "real crunch" is for the feds and the province to plan ahead to send additional nurses, doctors and other specialists to step in if the rate of COVID-19 hospitalizations continues to rise.
Hajdu says Merriman agreed that his team could conduct modelling to determine if and when they would need those kinds of additional support.
"Health human resources across the country are stressed and so I reminded the minister that we'll be there to help everyone across the country as much as possible and whenever, whenever it's needed," Hajdu said.
The Saskatchewan Health Authority is planning to surge to 175 ICU beds — up from the normal number of 79 — in order to care for a projected 125 COVID-19 patients needing intensive care in the coming weeks.
CBC News reached out to the provincial government asking if it will formally request help from Ottawa, but did not hear back immediately.
The Saskatchewan NDP has called on the province to look into all available support options for Saskatchewan's health-care system, including the Canadian military, the civil service or help from other provinces.
Saskatchewan reported three new COVID-19 deaths on Sunday, 552 new cases and 281 people in hospital with the disease.