Sask. surge capacity plan updated to manage staffing, increased demand due to Omicron

·3 min read
The Saskatchewan Health Authority is tapping into its supplemental workflow teams to get more resources where they are needed, including the 811 call line. (Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit)
The Saskatchewan Health Authority is tapping into its supplemental workflow teams to get more resources where they are needed, including the 811 call line. (Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit)

The Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) announced updates to its COVID-19 surge capacity plan for hospitals Thursday.

Marlo Pritchard, the president of the province's Public Safety Agency, said the changes are based on expected increases in both demand for services and health-care workers contracting the Omicron variant.

The province will establish "go teams" of health-care workers who can quickly deploy and provide services to continue care where there's a staff shortage. Additional changes include:

  • Optimize acute care capacity and emergency department flow.

  • Maintain enhancements to emergency medical services put in place to manage additional demand through previous COVID case surges.

  • Implement human resource strategies, like cross-training staff to meet multiple system needs and using supplemental workforce teams.

  • Time-limited, targeted service slowdowns when/where required.

On Thursday the province reported 945 new COVID-19 cases with 123 patients in hospital — 64 admitted with a COVID-related illness, 51 admitted with other reasons but then determined to have COVID, eight undetermined.

Premier Scott Moe, who tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday, said a day earlier that hospitalizations have increased due to Omicron, and called it "concerning."

Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab said the majority of people with the Omicron variant are self-managing symptoms at home.

"So most people won't need to access primary care providers or the HealthLine," he said.

On Wednesday, Shahab said that although the Omicron variant is less severe than Delta, its rapid spread means that the province could see the same number of hospitalizations as it did in the fourth wave.

Pritchard said at this point, the province does not expect it will need to transfer ICU patients to other jurisdictions, as it did during the fourth wave.

He said this situation is also different, as other provinces are planning for similar staffing and service changes.

"So that capacity, or capability, may not even be there," he said.

Shortage of health-care workers

Derek Miller, the interim COO of the SHA, said there has been an increase in absent workers due to COVID-19 in the last week.

He said the SHA is planning for 15 to 20 per cent absenteeism due to the Omicron variant, although it won't necessarily happen provincewide at any given time.

We're really looking at every source of staff to really mitigate the impact this is having on services. - Derek Miller, Sask. Health Authority interim COO

Local practices within the SHA to cover staff who are off sick include offering additional shifts and overtime to workers, or having teams work short staffed.

"That does strain our teams in terms of delivering services," he said. "We're really looking at every source of staff to really mitigate the impact this is having on services."

As per the updated plan, the Saskatchewan Health Authority is tapping into its supplemental workflow teams to get more resources where they are needed.

A total of 72 additional administrative officials and 11 registered nurses are being added to 811 HealthLine in the next several days.

The Public Safety Agency said 811 HealthLine has seen a "three-fold" increase in call volumes within the last month.

"I would again like to acknowledge and apologize for the 811 delays," said Pritchard. "We anticipate that will be addressed over the coming days."

The province also mentioned MySaskHealth records will not be available from 6 p.m. CST on Jan. 15 to 6 a.m. CST on Jan. 16 due to a planned service upgrade. People will not be able to create a new account or get updates from their account during that time.

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