Sask. plans to send more COVID-19 patients to Ontario

·3 min read
An ICU health-care worker cares for a patient inside a negative pressure room in Toronto in December 2020. Plans are underway to increase the number of COVID-19 intensive care patients Saskatchewan is transferring to Ontario, starting next week. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press - image credit)
An ICU health-care worker cares for a patient inside a negative pressure room in Toronto in December 2020. Plans are underway to increase the number of COVID-19 intensive care patients Saskatchewan is transferring to Ontario, starting next week. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Saskatchewan plans to increase the number of COVID-19 patients it sends to Ontario starting early next week.

The Provincial Emergency Operations Centre (PEOC) is coordinating with the Saskatchewan Health Authority and the Ontario Critical Care Command Centre to send "up to three" patients a day next Monday through Wednesday, the Saskatchewan government said in a Friday afternoon update.

These transfers would add to the six COVID-19 patients moved out east earlier this week, along with the additional three expected over the weekend.

"These plans are continually in motion but they are subject to change and we are committed to providing confirmed information on transfers of the Saskatchewan patients," said Marlo Pritchard, president of the Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency and head of the PEOC, during a COVID-19 technical briefing Friday morning.

He noted the number of transfers could change depending on several factors. Those include ICU capacity, aircraft availability, severe weather or other unforeseen events.

Confusion during initial transfers

There was some confusion early on with Saskatchewan's plans to move ICU patients out of the province.

Ontario Health told CBC News on Wednesday morning it was prepared to take at least 12 Saskatchewan patients by week's end — six more than what was initially announced.

However, during a technical briefing later that day, Pritchard would not confirm plans for any more transfers or clarify where Ontario health officials would have gotten that number from.

It came as a surprise to some health-care workers in both provinces, who voiced concerns on social media that Saskatchewan was pulling back on patient transfers.

The next day, the province issued a statement. It outlined that Saskatchewan's ICU capacity is assessed on an hourly basis by medical professionals and other experts.

"The issue of out-of-province transfers is an extremely complicated process which requires a high level of technical consideration, medical oversight and review," the Thursday morning statement read.

The province also added that unverified social media posts should be "disregarded."

The statement never did clarify why Ontario health officials thought they would receive a total of 12 ICU patients from the province by the end of the week.

Former PPC candidate among Sask. ICU transfers

Mark Friesen, the former People's Party of Canada (PPC) candidate for the riding of Saskatoon–Grasswood, was one of the first six intensive care patients in the province sent to Ontario this week, supporters confirmed in a Facebook live Thursday evening.

"You know Mark — he's fighting hard, he's doing great," supporter Tamara Lavoie said during the live stream. "All the updates that we get, he's improving; his oxygen needs are down."

According to Lavoie, Friesen was first hospitalized for pneumonia in Saskatoon about three weeks ago, before getting moved to an ICU at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto Wednesday night.

Mark Friesen/Facebook
Mark Friesen/Facebook

Last month, Friesen was part of a group that lost a court challenge arguing the province's proof-of-vaccination policy is in violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Throughout the pandemic, he also promoted protests against COVID-19 public health restrictions — including one last December in Saskatoon that ended in a fine against the organizer.

At Friday's technical briefing, the province confirmed the Saskatchewan ICU patients transferred to Ontario had been hospitalized due to COVID-19.

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