Sask. health minister apologizes for 'speaking in error' about COVID-19 hospitalization numbers

·3 min read
Minister of Health Paul Merriman at the Saskatchewan Legislature on Monday, April 19, 2021.  (CBC - image credit)
Minister of Health Paul Merriman at the Saskatchewan Legislature on Monday, April 19, 2021. (CBC - image credit)

Saskatchewan's minister of health has apologized for speaking in error in regards to how patients hospitalized by COVID-19 are counted in provincial data.

Minister Paul Merriman incorrectly stated during the human services committee meeting on April 15 that COVID-19 patients who are hospitalized, but no longer infectious, are not included in the province's hospital or ICU count.

He corrected the error days later.

"If they are in the hospital, and tested positive, no matter how long they remain in that hospital, they will still be counted as that," Merriman said Monday during Question Period. "That's my apologies."

The minister will notify the committee in writing that he was mistaken in his answer, said a spokesperson for the ministry.

Health policy consultant Dennis Kendel said it was "very concerning" for the minister to relay flawed information.

"The health minister is the highest public official, accountable to the public, for managing the entire public health system, or governing it, I might say," Kendel said. "If he/she doesn't understand what the terminology means, that's very worrisome."

How recoveries are reported

The government deems someone "recovered" 10 days after they receive a positive COVID-19 test because they are no longer considered infectious, regardless if they are still hospitalized from the virus.

Kendel said the ministry should use the word "non-infectious" instead, as the word "recovered" can sow confusion.

Dennis Kendel said the Ministry of Health should use the word “non-infectious” instead as the word “recovered” can sow confusion.
Dennis Kendel said the Ministry of Health should use the word “non-infectious” instead as the word “recovered” can sow confusion. (Trent Peppler/CBC)

"In addition to the people who are in the hospital, who are obviously not recovered, a high percentage of people develop long symptoms and require help and support from the health-care system," Kendel said.

He said words matter and so does communication with the public.

"If we don't understand the severity of this, we're more inclined to accept less interventional measures by the government," Kendel said.

Saskatchewan a hotspot for COVID-19 hospitalizations

Saskatchewan continues to have one of the highest rates of COVID-19 hospitalizations among all the provinces.

On April 17, chief medical officer Dr. Susan Shaw said on CBC's White Coat Black Art with Dr. Brian Goldman that Saskatchewan is "seeing similar things, if not the same things" as Ontario when it comes to health-care workers burning out and hospitals having limited ICU capacity.

During a presentation to physicians on April 15, the SHA said "if current trajectory holds, our health system will be overrun."

Last week, the SHA made the unprecedented moved of placing two COVID-19 patients in some rooms to make space for more patients.

On Monday, hospitalizations continued to grow. The province reported 200 COVID-19 patients in hospital, an increase of 11 from Sunday, with 43 people in the ICU, 31 of whom are in Regina.

The Saskatchewan Health Authority said it includes both infectious and non-infectious patients in its hospitalization and ICU numbers.
The Saskatchewan Health Authority said it includes both infectious and non-infectious patients in its hospitalization and ICU numbers.(Apu Gomes/AFP/Getty Images)

Shaw told Dr. Goldman there's "a frustration, and at times it gets into anger because we do know that COVID can be prevented."

"Sometimes I'm standing in the ICU looking after a young parent of young children, treating that person knowing that it's preventable," Shaw said.

"I think that causes a lot of moral distress and that is going to add up, that is going to build up and I think it is going to spill over in ways that we can't really understand yet."