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Saskatchewan asks other provinces if they can spare ICU staff amid COVID-19 crisis

·3 min read

REGINA — Saskatchewan is asking other provinces if they have health-care workers they could send if needed in the coming days to help its struggling intensive care units.

Marlo Pritchard, head of the government's emergency operations centre, says half of the provinces contacted have indicated they are unable to help with Saskatchewan's COVID-19 crisis. He did not say which provinces might be able to provide workers.

Saskatchewan is looking for people who typically work in ICUs, including nurses, respiratory therapists and perfusionists — staff who operate heart-lung machines.

Pritchard said the province will monitor its need for out-of-province workers over the weekend and into next week.

Saskatchewan has already said it is preparing to send COVID-19 patients to Ontario and possibly to Manitoba.

The province has been running out of intensive care unit space and staff, as mostly unvaccinated COVID-19 patients overwhelm its health-care system.

Derek Miller of the Saskatchewan Health Authority said the province has redeployed 600 health-care workers from surgeries and other services to deal with the province's fourth wave. Additionally, 175 workers have been redeployed to ICU wards.

"We are currently managing a high level of patients in our ICUs, and we've been doing that for a number of weeks now, and the priority is to provide the best possible care," Miller said Friday.

The federal government recently sent eight critical care nurses to Alberta to help in its ICUs.

The Saskatchewan Party government said it has not yet requested health-care workers from Ottawa, but has asked for supplies.

Health Canada said it has approved Saskatchewan's request for four million rapid antigen tests for October and four million for November, all of which will be made available to residents for free.

Saskatchewan will also be getting doses of monoclonal antibody treatments, which helps treat mild to moderate COVID-19 in people who are at high risk of progressing to severe COVID-19, including hospitalizations and death, said a Health Canada spokesperson.

The province said it is also preserving health-care workers by implementing a proof-of-vaccination policy to ensure they are safe.

About 98 per cent of the 40,000 health-care workers in Saskatchewan have declared they are or intend to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by the province's November deadline, Miller said.

He added that 400 people are declaring they will show a proof of negative test to attend work, with another 400 people declaring a medical or religious exemption, but they will also have to show proof of negative test.

Those who don't follow the health authority's policy will be let go.

On Friday, Saskatchewan reported 312 new cases, with 339 people in hospital, including 78 in intensive care.

Dr. Saqib Shahab, Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer, said cases are slightly down from the previous weeks, but it's too early to tell if it's a trend.

"Even if we're plateauing, we're plateauing at a high level and that's generating fairly high rates of ICU admissions," Shahab said, adding more restrictions may be needed.

"Anytime you have to cancel (health-care services) because you have to look after a vaccine-preventable disease -- to me -- is a call to action to bring our numbers down."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 15, 2021.

Mickey Djuric, The Canadian Press

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