Sask. Health Authority announces phased plan to resume health care services

The Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) is giving the province a better idea of what their phased plan to resume health care services will look like beginning on May 19.

The authority says it’s a process that will alter some of the service changes and reductions that had been initiated at earlier phases of their COVID-19 readiness plan.

The strategy features four phases and serves as a framework. Its implementation will depend on different areas around the province and will be based on factors like outbreaks, capacity, availability of health care workers and availability of key supplies.

Scott Livingstone, CEO of the Saskatchewan Health Authority, said this plan is not a one-size-fits-all approach.

“It will be mindful of the different local dynamics in the province including accounting for the outbreaks that may slow the service resumption in certain areas of Saskatchewan,” stated Livingstone on Tuesday afternoon from Regina.

“Make no mistake – this plan is necessary. The reality is we need to start to resume some services where we can. While there are risks to resuming services, there are also risks if we don’t.”

Some of the highlights from phase one include the expansion of surgical services from emergency and three week urgent cases to those booked as six week urgent cases. It will be approximately a 10 to 25 per cent increase in surgeries.

All future phases other than phase one will be based on the SHA’s assessment of all factors at play to ensure the province is safe to move forward in the plan.

Dr. Susan Shaw, the SHA’s chief medical officer, said it’s important to maintain a balance of providing care for all residents while the needs of COVID-19 patients are met.

“We must be flexible and adaptive,” suggested Dr. Shaw. “This plan will be tailored to ensure it does not impact our response to [outbreak] areas and ensures our continued ability to respond to the challenges they are facing.”

Phase one: Resumption of some everyday health services and expansion of surgeries and diagnostic imaging

Phase one will start May 19. Highlights from this phase include:

  • Surgical services: phased expansion of surgeries from emergency and three week urgent cases to those booked as six week urgent cases, resulting in a 10 to 25 percent increase in surgical services.
    • Ex. Cataracts, hysterectomy, cochlear, thoracic
  • Diagnostic imaging: Increased outpatient volumes, including:
    • MRI: increase from 50 per cent of normal capacity to 75 per cent of normal capacity
    • CT: increase from 55 per cent of normal capacity to 75 per cent of normal capacity
  • Primary Care Clinics: expand availability, continue to use virtual care where possible, and prioritize in person visits for those living with chronic diseases
  • All routine immunizations
  • Public Health Inspections: increase inspections of long-term care homes, personal care homes and group homes.
  • Mental health and addictions: re-open mental health short stay units, allow the option of in-person appointments as needed, allow more therapeutic/day programming for groups under 10 people and resume regular hours for harm reduction programs.
  • Also includes gradual re-introduction of services in other key areas like home care, kidney health, rehabilitation and therapy programs.

Interdisciplinary teams, including physicians, will continue assessing all waiting patients to ensure surgeries and diagnostics are performed in a timely manner.

Established online programs and virtual care will continue to be used in the delivery of service across the province, wherever possible. There will be renewed opportunity for in-person appointments when necessary. Patient flow through facilities will be designed to achieve physical distancing and staggered appointments will assist with limiting the number of patients in a facility at any one time.

Phase two: Specialty clinics (dates to be determined)

The plan notes that SHA-operated specialty clinics will continue with virtual care at specialty clinics, where possible. Other highlights from this phase include service delivery in the following specialty areas:

  • Electrophysiology, cath lab, cardiac stress testing, outpatient heart monitoring
  • Respiratory:
    • Level three sleep disorders testing
    • Respiratory outpatient clinic
    • Tuberculosis clinic and treatments
  • Eye centre testing
  • Dermatology clinics
  • Cast clinics
  • Increased fetal testing at high risk antenatal clinics

Phase three: Further expansion of everyday health services (dates to be determined)

Highlights from this phase include prioritizing resumption of service delivery in the following areas:

  • Chronic Disease Management/Wellness Programs/Stroke Prevention
  • Opioid Agonist Therapy
  • Specialized services for clients with developmental disabilities, Autism and brain injuries
  • Continued re-introduction of mental health and addictions services, including opening of social detox and addictions inpatient treatment

Phase four: Full resumption of services (dates to be determined)

Final actions required for full resumption of services, including

  • Addition of long-waiting elective surgeries and previously postponed surgeries; and
  • Re-open hip/knee outpatient clinic.

The SHA noted that patients immediately impacted by the move will receive phone calls with updates specific to their situation, including new surgical or procedure dates. Patients are reminded there is no need to contact their health care provider for information.

More information on the SHA’s plan can be found online.

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