Saskatchewan will be transferring six COVID-19 patients to Ontario over the next 72 hours as the Prairie province struggles to deal with a record number of intensive care patients.
One patient will be transferred Monday, with the other five expected by end of day Wednesday, according to the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA).
Premier Scott Moe said planning for transferring patients has been going on for “a number of days” and that patients will be transferred to ensure they receive “the very best possible care that they can.”
Additional out-of-province support that may be required beyond Wednesday is being finalized, according to the SHA.
“We recognize the stress this will cause the families affected,” SHA CEO Scott Livingstone said in a news release Monday morning.
“We continue to work every day to maximize capacity to provide care as close to home as possible, but this decision is necessary to maintain the quality of critical care services our patients need.”
Saskatchewan had 85 COVID-19 patients in intensive care on Monday, a new record, according to the province’s hospitalizations dashboard.
The SHA says there are normally 79 ICU beds in the province.
Dr. Michael Warner, head of critical care at Michael Garron Hospital in Toronto, told CBC News that “moving patients thousands of kilometres in an airplane should be the last resort.”
“Of course it’s safer to move health-care workers than patients,” he said. “But it would be less ideal to not have capacity in Saskatchewan to deal with new patients coming in, so if they need to move patients proactively to create capacity then they should do it so that future patients can get the care they need.”
Sask. asks feds for help
Moe said his government has asked Ottawa for additional staff to work in the province’s ICUs. The federal government has said for several weeks that it’s ready to help Saskatchewan battle its COVID surge.
“While we appreciate any help that the federal government can provide, we’re also quite realistic that this will likely not be a large number of staff but it will be a very specialized grouping of staff,” Moe said at a news conference Monday morning.
Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency president Marlo Pritchard said the request, sent this morning, is for critical care nurses, respiratory therapists and perfusionists, who control cardiac bypass machines during surgery.
Pritchard said the federal government may be able to provide two to five additional beds, but that the province hasn’t received any details from the federal government as of yet.
Public Safety Minister Bill Blair’s office confirmed to CBC News that the federal government received Saskatchewan’s request and is currently reviewing it to co-ordinate supports “as soon as possible.”
Ryan Meili, the leader of Saskatchewan’s NDP Opposition, says having to move ICU patients to Ontario was an avoidable situation. He accused Moe of playing politics by not asking Ottawa for help earlier.
“This premier owes the people of Saskatchewan an apology,” Meili said in a news conference Monday afternoon. “The families and those patients who are on the planes on their way to Ontario, he owes them an apology.
“I would’ve called in help from the federal government and the military right away instead of waiting until it was too late.”
The premier faced repeated questions about whether his government could have moved sooner on masking and proof of vaccination policies.
“Should we have moved a week or possibly 10 days earlier with that policy? That’s a fair question,” Moe said when taking questions from reporters.
Doctor predicts many more patients will be transferred
Dr. Hassan Masri, a Saskatoon-based intensive care physician, says every patient transported out of Saskatchewan is a “personal failure” of the premier and Health Minister Paul Merriman.
“We had asked for vaccine passports and vaccine mandates and for masking all summer long and we were ignored,” Masri said.
While Masri says moving patients out of the province is necessary to avoid having to potentially deny some patients care based on a triage system, he says transferring only six patients will do little to relieve pressure on Saskatchewan’s health-care system.
“In order for this transporting patients to Ontario to make any difference whatsoever to our collapsing health care, we are going to need to move potentially 30, 40, 50 patients,” Masri said.
“Otherwise, this will not help in a significant fashion and I fully expect the government to announce we’re going to move 30 to 40 patients in the next week or two.”