Units in Saskatoon and Regina hospitals are still experiencing an "extended" amount of pressure, as they continue to operate well above capacity, the province's health minister says.
Unlike earlier in the COVID-19 pandemic, though, it's not the intensive care units that are bursting at the seams, but the other areas of the facilities.
Health Minister Paul Merriman acknowledged there are "tremendous pressures" on Saskatoon and Regina medicine beds, which are used for patients who require extra care during recovery after a procedure or emergency treatment.
Hospitals in the two cities have been operating at or over 100 per cent capacity on the medicine units and there are backlogs throughout the system.
"It is at an extended high level. We're hopeful it's starting to come down," Merriman said Thursday at the Saskatchewan Legislature.
"We're seeing some seasonal influxes as well as what's layered on top of the existing COVID problems within our health-care system."
As of Wednesday, there were 390 people with COVID-19 in Saskatchewan hospitals.
Merriman said hospitals have also been challenged by the "human resource side of things."
The leader of Saskatchewan's Official Opposition said patient numbers in medicine wards remain high.
"[They're at] 130,140 per cent of what they are actually able to handle," said NDP Leader Ryan Meili, who is also a physician. He pointed to the ripple effect of that strain, describing a situation he said unfolded in Saskatoon earlier this week.
"There was 68 people sitting in emergency rooms, stuck in their emergency beds when they should be up on the ward, and that also means that people coming into emergency aren't able to get care," he said.
Meili said the government's decision to downplay the seriousness of COVID-19 and the effectiveness of vaccines has added to pressure on the medicine wards and hospitals overall.
As of late Thursday afternoon, there were 37 patients in Saskatoon emergency departments who had been admitted to hospital but had not been moved up to the in-patient unit, according to Saskatchewan Health Authority data.
There were also 134 patients in Saskatoon hospitals considered "alternate level of care" patients, meaning they need to remain in hospital but no longer need the specialty care of the unit they are currently in.
Merriman said the province is relying on patient transfers to smaller centres to ease the burden in the two major cities. Provincewide, the hospital system is at 96 per cent capacity, he said, insisting the health-care system as a whole can handle the pressure.
It will take time to work through the backlogs, he said, reiterating the government's promise to open 10 high-acuity beds at Regina General Hospital, which would serve patients who need a level of care somewhere between the ICU and a medicine bed.
Promised new urgent care centres in Regina and Saskatoon could also help, he said, but he did not elaborate on how the new beds would be staffed.