Sask. medical community takes to Twitter to share realities of health-care system amid COVID-19

·5 min read
Intensive Care Units in Saskatchewan are filling up, as are emergency rooms and other parts of the healthcare system, as COVID-19 cases rise in the province. Now health-care workers are raising alarms on social media about the situation. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Intensive Care Units in Saskatchewan are filling up, as are emergency rooms and other parts of the healthcare system, as COVID-19 cases rise in the province. Now health-care workers are raising alarms on social media about the situation. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Members of Saskatchewan's medical community are trying to agitate leaders from all walks of life to do something to slow down the spread of COVID-19.

They've taken to Twitter to express their frustrations with Saskatchewan's COVID-19 situation and share their perspectives on the health-care system in the province as the fourth wave of the virus ramps up.

On Saturday 370 new cases were reported and the province said 110 people were in hospital, while 25 were in intensive care. Another 257 cases were reported on Sunday.

Nurses and doctors who've seen Saskatchewan's intensive care units paint a bleak picture on Twitter — all accompanied by the word "agitate" — of crowded ICUs and of younger and younger people suffering from COVID-19.

Saskatchewan Union of Nurses president Tracy Zambory said union members are sharing their struggles in the health-care system with her on a frequent basis.

"As was and has been said so well over the last number of days about the absolute dire straits in our emergency rooms, they are often the only conduit for the people to enter into the health-care system," she said.

"It's becoming an absolutely untenable situation. It is where people are calling in sick and they're not able to work, or if they can work, they're having to fill these holes in the rosters and they're having to work massive amounts of overtime."

While the emergency room is such a crucial part of the health-care system, Zamobry pointed out that other parts of the system are reaching dire straits, too.

Members of the union of some 10,000 nurses from across the province have told Zambory they cannot continue to operate this way. They don't feel supported, and they feel despondent and heartbroken.

One recent factor Zambory said was playing into feeling unsupported came in the form of comments from Minister of Health Paul Merriman last week.

On Wednesday, after thanking health-care workers for their efforts through the pandemic, Merriman pointed out there were staff taking "well-deserved time off" but that was factoring into some of the staffing strains in hospitals.

Zambory took offence to those remarks from Merriman.

"Talk about an insult. Our membership and health-care workers across this province have shown up every day to support this health-care system," she said.

"Not just health-care workers but all essential workers have shown up to make sure Saskatchewan has still managed itself. And we have a health minister that is so detached from what is going on, he makes a comment like that."

She said a 20 per cent reduction in services would help get the health-care system "back in order" by getting people to support contact tracing, testing and vaccine administration.

A statement from the Saskatchewan Health Authority's chief human resources officer Mike Northcott said between September 2020 and June 2021, 4,500 or 67 per cent more staff were hired than in the same time period between 2019 and 2020.

But, the statement said, he recognized more work needed to be done to stabilize staffing levels across Saskatchewan's health-care system.

Not just political leaders, but all leaders

Dr. Alexander Wong, who published a tweet asking for "leaders to lead" on Sunday, said his use of the word "agitate" wasn't directed at individuals.

"We've kind of done that already and I think we've reached the limits of what we can expect the individual person or the individual citizen to do, in terms of making good decisions, getting vaccinated and so forth," he said on Sunday.

"This has been the messaging over the course of the last eight weeks and our vaccine uptake has hit a wall. So to me, 'agitate' means looking at people and leaders that have the means to make decisions."

Wong said that isn't exclusively limited to people within the provincial government — rather community leaders, business leaders, medical leaders and health-care system leaders need to be agitated to act.

He said it was time for those leaders to put measures in place that will help avert a major health care crisis from COVID-19's fourth wave in Saskatchewan, which he said is already ongoing.

Wong said as long as Saskatchewan's government continues to offload responsibility and decision making onto individuals rather than introduce mandatory masking or other measures suggested by medical professionals itself, leaders in the aforementioned communities need to step up.

Submitted by Alexander Wong/Saskatchewan Health Authority
Submitted by Alexander Wong/Saskatchewan Health Authority

He also called on provincial leaders to look to Manitoba and how it's handled COVID-19 in recent weeks, in terms of implementing proactive measures like mandatory indoor masking and in some cases, vaccination passports of sorts.

"They started out slow, relatively speaking, with respect to vaccine uptake and so forth, they had a bad third wave … but since then they've really kind of nailed it and got it right," he said.

As for what he was hearing in Saskatchewan's health-care system, Wong noted his peers had warned intensive care units in the north and central were filling to capacity and staff who came to the system's aid in the spring, when cases and hospitalizations both rose, likely won't be there this time around.

"We can't find staff anymore. A lot of those people moved on, or burned out, or have taken time away because they just can't do it anymore," he said.

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