The painful, impersonal reality of Saskatchewan's COVID-19 transfers to Ontario

·3 min read
Ken Roth speaks with CBC News from his hospital bed in Ottawa on Oct. 29, 2021. He's one of 22 Saskatchewan ICU patients transferred to Ontario in an attempt to alleviate COVID-19 in the province.  (Bonnie Allen/CBC News - image credit)
Ken Roth speaks with CBC News from his hospital bed in Ottawa on Oct. 29, 2021. He's one of 22 Saskatchewan ICU patients transferred to Ontario in an attempt to alleviate COVID-19 in the province. (Bonnie Allen/CBC News - image credit)

For one of at least 22 intensive care patients moved to Ontario from Saskatchewan to alleviate COVID-19 pressure, the abrupt transfer was a brutal reminder of his traumatic past.

Ken Roth, 66, is a retired fire chief from La Loche, Sask., more than 500 kilometres northwest of Saskatoon.

The unvaccinated man contracted COVID-19 in early July. He was intubated on July 28 and spent weeks in a coma.

Until recently, he was receiving care in the ICU at St. Paul's Hospital in Saskatoon.

The Metis man says his wife and daughter had been visiting him at the hospital every day.

But in a flash that changed.

"The way they treated me in Saskatoon..." he said in an interview between bouts of coughing.

"They just came there and said 'you're leaving for Ottawa!'"

He attempted to protest, he said, but was moved so quickly that he didn't even have time to make a phone call to say good-bye. He cried on the plane ride to Ontario.

Submitted by Ken Roth
Submitted by Ken Roth

Roth said the experience was a a traumatic reminder of how he was ripped away from his mother at the age of six.

He was then sent to a residential school.

"Just like when I was a kid, they did the same thing. They just hurt me so much," he told CBC News.

Roth isn't upset that he was sent to Ontario to receive care — he's unhappy with how they moved him.

Roth is one of 22 people who, as of Friday morning, had been transferred to Ontario to ease the burden in Saskatchewan hospitals and protect standards of care.

Hospitals in the province remain pushed to the limit and another six ICU patients are expected to be moved by Sunday, making for a total of 28 by the end of the week.

Saskatchewan Health Authority CEO Scott Livingstone was unaware of Roth's concerns, but when questioned Friday, he issued an apology.

"[We] certainly would apologize for any pain or suffering of that patient," he said

There is supposed to be a process to inform families and patients — if they are conscious — who are being moved out of province.

"That would not coincide with our current process of having people sent out of province," explained Livingstone.

Roth's family did meet with a social worker at St. Paul's hospital after he had been transferred.

There's no option to say 'no' to being moved, the province said.

If officials determine a patient is stable enough to travel and they need to make space, they will be transferred.

However, health officials in the province aren't sure if that will be necessary beyond the moves already planned up to Sunday.

"We are seeing a reduction in our COVID patients, we are seeing a reduction in the use of ICU beds," said Marlo Pritchard, the president of the Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency in the same news conference on Friday.

If the province does continue moving patients, Roth says it needs to do better and be more aware.

Sensitivity is key, he said, especially to residential school survivors.

"Let them at least talk to their families. You don't just grab people," he said.

"Those people, like me, really brought trauma back to me."

The 66-year-old has no complaints about his treatment so far in Ottawa.

"The care is 100 per cent here. They really look after me," he said.

But that hasn't made it any easier.

"There is no words for lonely. I'm more than lonely," he said.

That may soon change. His family is driving to Ontario. However, most are not fully vaccinated and won't be able to visit him in hospital.

That's also a policy that is being adopted by the SHA.

LISTEN| Patients now being transferred to Ontario from Saskatchewan

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