Sask. minister says health-care system has enough staff to handle current COVID patient load

·3 min read
Saskatchewan Health Minister Paul Merriman receives a flu vaccine on Oct. 14, 2021.  (Alexander Quon/CBC News - image credit)
Saskatchewan Health Minister Paul Merriman receives a flu vaccine on Oct. 14, 2021. (Alexander Quon/CBC News - image credit)

Saskatchewan Health Minister Paul Merriman says the province is not asking the federal government for assistance because Saskatchewan's health-care system has enough workers to handle its load of patients with and without COVID-19.

Merriman took questions from reporters Thursday after receiving his seasonal flu shot at a pharmacy in Regina Thursday.

Asked why the Saskatchewan government is not requesting health-care staff from Ottawa — a move confirmed Wednesday by the Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency — Merriman replied, "because the Saskatchewan Health Authority is telling me they have the resources in place to meet our needs."

Merriman's remark came only a day after Scott Livingstone, the CEO of the Saskatchewan Health Authority, said the system was still under "significant pressures" because of the flood of COVID-19 patients into Saskatchewan hospitals.

Saskatchewan remains the jurisdiction in Canada with the highest number of COVID-19 deaths per capita over the past 14 days and the highest number of COVID-19 cases over the same time period, according to Health Canada.

COVID-19 in Saskatchewan by the numbers

Saskatchewan has been in talks with Ontario about potentially moving some ICU patients out of province because of those pressures.

On Thursday, Merriman said discussions have also begun with the provincial government of Manitoba about moving patients there.

Alexander Quon/CBC News
Alexander Quon/CBC News

He also explained the government's reasoning in sending patients out of province, rather than bringing in federal assistance.

"It's much easier for us to be able to move people out of province and they be treated in care and they're in the community that the practitioners are able to provide that care instead of pulling people into our system," Merriman said.

Questions over vaccination rates

The health minister attempted to defend the province's vaccination rates on Thursday, rejecting the notion that Saskatchewan has among the lowest vaccine rates out of any province or territory.

"We have a whole bunch of health cards of people that have moved out of the province, [or] that ... have been vaccinated in other provinces but aren't being counted here in Saskatchewan. So we've been in the process of cleaning that up," he said.

Alexander Quon/CBC News
Alexander Quon/CBC News

Merriman wouldn't provide specifics on how that would change vaccination totals in the province.

Saskatchewan has seen an uptick in COVID-19 vaccinations since announcing a proof-of-vaccination policy in the province.

However, it lags behind nearly every other province and territory, as well as the national average for both first and second doses.

Only 83.7 per cent of eligible Saskatchewan residents have a first dose. That figure drops to 74.6 per cent when looking at those who are fully vaccinated.

The health minister said he was encouraged by recent, lower daily increases in new COVID-19 cases but said it's too early to call it a trend.

Merriman said he'll look to get COVID-19 modelling data to the public and media as soon as possible.

Alexander Quon/CBC News
Alexander Quon/CBC News

Merriman was accompanied Thursday by Dr. Tania Diener, the health system's director for immunization, who recently said people aged 12 to 39 no longer have any excuses for waiting to get vaccinated if they are eligible.

She said there's no issue with receiving a COVID-19 vaccine and the flu vaccine at the same time.

"It's just going to be two different arms and you got to go so really encourage people who still haven't received their COVID [shot] to also get it at the same time as their flu vaccine," Diener said.

The Saskatchewan Public Health Agency hosted its first COVID-19 news conference on Wednesday.

The government stressed in a followup note that the agency's updates are not a substitute for the province's media availabilities, pointing to Merriman's flu shot appearance as an example.

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