The Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) is slowing down and pausing its non-critical and elective services to focus on COVID-19 efforts, the province confirmed Friday morning.
CBC News first learned of the slowdown from an internal SHA newsletter that circulated to staff Thursday.
In it, SHA president and CEO Scott Livingstone wrote that "in the coming days" health authority leaders will work to implement changes to help cope with the extreme stress teams are under.
The slowdown could affect surgical wait lists and "these types of services," he said.
"The harsh reality is: there are no easy choices. We will slow down services, but that will have consequences too," he wrote.
Livingstone's message went on to reiterate to staff that vaccines work and that unvaccinated people continue to clog up the province's health-care system.
"The unchecked spread of COVID among this population is escalating pressure on our hospitals and will result in Saskatchewan residents going without certain health services that they rely on to maintain their quality of life," he said.
"Not only are they choosing to risk their own lives by going without the protection vaccines provide, they are risking the lives of those they love and those in their communities."
Livingstone added that the worsening COVID-19 situation is taking a toll on medical health staff.
"Physicians, nurses and the other skilled health professionals we rely on are a finite resource. As cases, hospitalizations and ICU admissions escalate, there is a risk we will fully expend their capacity," he said.
"When that occurs, the unvaccinated will be making a choice for you about whether you will receive the high quality, lifesaving supports you are entitled to as a Canadian citizen."
In a news conference Friday morning, Livingstone reinforced the stance he took in his note, adding that "with the case loads coming in, everyday health-care services will not look like everyday health-care services."
He said this type of targeted slowdown is something the SHA did in the first wave of the pandemic, and he's confident it will help temporarily alleviate the pressures many workers are feeling.
Proof of vaccination policy expanded to include all SHA staff
The province and health authority jointly announced Friday that a proof of vaccination policy — which is still in the works — will include all SHA staff, not just front-line health-care workers.
"Consultations with key stakeholders are currently underway in order to fully develop the policy and implementation plan to require proof of vaccination or proof of negative test for all SHA employees," the province said in a news release.
During Friday's news conference, Livingstone noted the service slowdowns will help, but said vaccinations are "truly the most definitive tool" to ease the spread of the virus and the strain on medical health professionals.
"We've stalled [in administering vaccines] — and that needs to change," he told reporters.
On Tuesday, in another internal newsletter to SHA staff, Livingstone noted that, at the time, one in five Saskatchewan health-care workers were not vaccinated.