Concerns raised at Leg on health care situation in Duck Lake

Health care recruitment was back in the spotlight at the Saskatchewan Legislature Thursday as a delegation from Duck Lake raised concerns about their struggles attracting doctors. 

The delegation of community leaders, which included Duck Lake Goodwill Manor Chair Ray Gauthier and Beardy’s & Okemasis’ Cree Nation Chief Edwin Ananas, stood alongside NDP leader Carla Beck and explained to reporters the issues they were having in keeping doctors in the community.

Among the irissues: nearly 1,000 Duck Lake and area residents were without a doctor; Willow Cree Health Services at Beardy’s had lost their family doctor last year, leaving the majority of people on that reserve without a family doctor; there was cessation of the Opioid Agonist Therapy program due to the departure of Beardy’s family doctor; and there was also the closure of eight beds in Duck Lake’s nursing home due to a lack of doctors. 

“We’ve been dealing with a shortage of a doctor, a responsible doctor for our residents for quite a while now, a year and a half to two years,” said Gauthier. 

“And it’s a problem. I mean, it’s going to affect the viability of the home, the employment status. I mean at some point as a board, we’re going to have to make tough decisions to remain fiscally responsible. We’re not at that point yet. 

Gauthier added Duck Lake was “a retirement community to a large extent… some of our residents don’t have the capacity to go to Regina or Saskatoon or Prince Albert.” 

A particular sore point for the delegation: Gauthier said they had sent a letter to the province outlining their concerns back in January, but said there was no response.

“It’s having a ripple effect on our community,” said Chief Ananas of the situation for Beardy’s reserve residents.

“People who don’t have accessibility to go to the city to see a doctor, so they go without. It’s causing so much hardship in our community for sure… It’s a serious issue and for it to go as long as it did unnoticed I would say is unacceptable to me as a leader and a spokesperson of my community. I think it’s a very serious issue that needs to be addressed in a proper manner.”

In the Legislature, Minister of Rural and Remote Health Tim McLeod pledged to meet with the delegation. But during Question Period, as recorded in Hansard, he also pointed to the Health Human Resources Action Plan as delivering results.

“Mr. Speaker, we are actively recruiting physicians to fill the vacancies, including in communities like Duck Lake. Mr. Speaker, this year’s budget includes eight more training seats for SIPPA [Saskatchewan international physician practice assessment] so that SIPPA doctors, we’re now training 53 total. And those doctors largely go to our rural and northern communities, Mr. Speaker.

“To help train more physicians, we’ve also created the rural physician incentive program, Mr. Speaker, that offers up to $200,000 as an incentive to our physicians who are willing to work in our rural facilities that are otherwise hard to staff. Thank you, Mr. Speaker.”

McLeod also dismissed the Opposition claim that the SaskParty had, in the words of Opposition Leader Beck during Question Period, “broken our health care system.”

“It’s a little bit rich for the opposition to be talking about breaking the health care system when they closed 52 hospitals across rural Saskatchewan, Mr. Speaker, and if given the opportunity, they’ve openly admitted that they would close 50 more, Mr. Speaker.”

In speaking to reporters afterward McLeod said they were aware of the concerns about the physicians previously serving Goodwill Manor and Duck Lake. 

“I understand that the doctor that was doing admissions has discontinued that practice, however, we’ve been working to address that situation, and I’m happy to say that we’ve recently recruited two additional Doctors through the SIPPA program into the community of Rosthern.”

Ask for how soon could they get the service they are expecting, McLeod said that is ongoing work through the SHA, and staffing at the facilities. McLeod said they were “working to actively restore and stabilize as quickly as possible.”

McLeod also said they had received correspondence from the community back in January and “they were already working on it and continuing to work on it. It’s unfortunate and I would apologize to the delegation that they didn’t receive a response back, but we were working on it. I’m certainly happy to meet with them today to relay that information to them.”

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