COVID-19 hospitalizations, ICU airlifts cost Sask. at least $100M

·3 min read
Health Minister Paul Merriman at a post-Question Period scrum on Nov. 29, 2021.  (Matt Duguid/CBC - image credit)
Health Minister Paul Merriman at a post-Question Period scrum on Nov. 29, 2021. (Matt Duguid/CBC - image credit)

Saskatchewan has finally revealed some of the costs associated with COVID-19 and the hospitalizations that have plagued the province during the fourth wave of the pandemic.

According to Health Minister Paul Merriman and other government officials at the standing committee on human services on Nov. 30, the cost could top $100 million.

The answers came only after questioning from NDP Opposition health critic Vicki Mowat.

According to testimony during committee, calculations from the Canadian Institute for Health Information found each COVID-19 hospitalization in Saskatchewan that does not result in an ICU admission costs an average of $14,198.

Over the course of the pandemic, 2,814 people have been hospitalized but not sent to ICU, for a combined cost of $39,953,172.

But the cost for those who entered ICU with COVID-19 is even more. Each ICU hospitalization in Saskatchewan is estimated to cost an average of $69,603.

With 863 ICU admissions over the course of the pandemic so far, that's calculated to have cost $60,067,389.

Those calculation alone bring the cost of the pandemic to more than $100 million.

In question period on Thursday, the Opposition NDP continued to pressure the government for answers surrounding the costs associated with COVID-19.

They also attempted to lay the blame for the price tag on the decisions made by the provincial government leading up to the fourth wave.

The numbers offered up by the NDP, as well as the claim that the provincial government is to blame, was met by a swift rebuke from Premier Scott Moe during a post-question period scrum.

"There is no jurisdiction, no province, no territory, no state that has a base of zero impact on health-care costs in their community," Moe said.

"This is a global pandemic that is not only impacting Saskatchewan, but is impacting other provinces and other places around the world and increasing the costs on on their health-care systems as well."

ICU airlift

The cost of the province airlifting COVID-19 ICU patients to Ontario has also been revealed.

As of the testimony on Tuesday, 27 patients had been airlifted.

Officials said they contracted out the flights to private companies. Two were chosen: Fox Flight Air Ambulance and Sunwest Aviation, which was contracted through STARS Air Ambulance.

STARS was not an option, due to the limited range its helicopters have and the necessity to quickly transport patients to Ontario.

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Twenty-three people were transported by Fox Flight while two others were transported through Sunwest.

The total cost of the respective contracts was $545,000 and $96,000.

Two other patients were airlifted through a Canadian Armed Forces flight. A cost for those was not provided.

Travel, meal and accommodations for the family members of ICU patients flown to Ontario was pegged at $142,532.

Although we now know the cost of the airlift, there was no estimate for what it has cost the province to fly those patients back.

There was also no estimate on what the province of Ontario may request Saskatchewan pay for the 27 patients it has treated.

As of Wednesday, there were still four Saskatchewan residents in Ontario being treated for COVID-19.

Merriman said Saskatchewan won't get a bill until the entire process is over and all patients are back in the province.

In a scrum, Moe said sending patients to Ontario was tough but that it is an example of provinces helping each other.

Moe pointed to the assistance Saskatchewan offered to B.C. as that province deals with flooding.

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