A car crash has left a town in rural Saskatchewan without laboratory services at its local health centre for nearly nine months — and residents are increasingly concerned about a lack of answers as to when they might return.
The Town of Balcarres, located about 85 kilometres northeast of Regina, published an open letter this week, saying municipal officials are attempting to hold the Saskatchewan Health Authority and the provincial government accountable.
"Frustrating is one word for it," Kirby Korchinski, Balcarres's acting mayor, told CBC News.
'Lifeblood of the town'
The trouble began on Nov. 14, 2021, when a vehicle slammed into the Balcarres Integrated Care Centre, the town's only medical centre.
A portion of the building and the equipment inside were damaged, shutting down laboratory testing at the facility.
While the provincial government made a commitment to the town that the replacement lab equipment would be purchased and the facility would be back fully functional by Aug. 2, "that hasn't proven to be true," Korchinski said.
While some services have resumed, others have not. Collection of blood samples is possible at the facility, for instance, but they're only couriered to Regina once a day for processing.
Some of those who relied on the facility for as-yet-resumed services now have to travel roughly 20 minutes to Fort Qu'Appelle or more than an hour to Regina.
"It's expensive, it's inconvenient and it's unnecessary. I mean, the facility's here, the equipment had an insurance claim. Hire some staff and move ahead," said Korchinski.
Further complicating issues is that with the shutdown in service, some of the laboratory staff retired, meaning there are now vacancies that need to be filled in order for the facility to adequately operate.
"Like any place in small town Saskatchewan health care is kind of part of the lifeblood of the town," Korchinski said.
In a statement, Everett Hindley, the minister of rural and remote health, said he understands the community's frustration.
"Communication should have been better," Hindley said.
The minister said he is committed to restoring laboratory services in the town and that equipment will be returned to the Balcarres Integrated Care Centre.
"Restoring lab services in Balcarres will take some time and will need to be done in a phased approach," Hindley said.
No timeline or details were provided in the statement.
In an attempt to get the answers demanded by the town's residents, municipal officials filed a freedom of information request with the Saskatchewan Health Authority. The freedom of information system is normally used by journalists, political parties and businesses to get information not normally available to the public.
Balcarres's requests include details on the insurance claim filed for the crash, the insurance policy around replacing equipment, and any details confirming the provincial review of laboratory services.
Officials are still waiting for those documents to be provided by the Saskatchewan Health Authority.