NDP ask how many new ICU beds are there, health minister speaks of staffing them

·5 min read

Regina– “No answer on the number of ICU beds,” New Democratic Party Leader Ryan Meili stated, after asking three times how many new intensive care unit (ICU) beds have been built in Saskatchewan. Three times he did not get a number from Minister of Health Paul Merriman. But he did get an explanation of the broader context – the need to pull staff from other areas to support ICU beds.

“How many additional ICU beds have been built, and have staff to run them?” Meili asked initially.

Merriman replied, “We do have ICU beds across our province that are ready to go in major centres, but it’s not just the physical bed that we need. We need to be able to have the resources around that bed, to be able to help that patient while they’re in that bed.

“That's why we're continuously adjusting what we are doing within our healthcare system, to be able to manage what our health care providers are doing; whether we need them in surgeries, or whether we need them to be working in the COVID ward. A physical bed is one part of that, and we have looked at that. We do have capacity within our field hospitals, but it's also the people that are in and around that bed to help out that patient that are important as well.”

But when it came to providing an actual number, Merriman did not do that.

Meili referenced modelling released two weeks ago showing potentially hundreds of people needing beds. New modelling was released an hour later by chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab and Merriman which reflected lower numbers than what had been released on Nov. 19.

Meili warned insufficient hospital beds could mean “hundreds of patients being turned away from life-saving care, right here in Saskatchewan.”

Merriman said the Ministry of Health and Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) have been working together to be able to draw on resources for those beds properly. He added that 24 intensive care unit beds are being used for COVID-19 across the province.

“We do have capacity to be able to move past that. We have to pull up the resources from other areas, that the member has properly identified. There are people that are out there that are waiting on medical care, but we have to continuously find that balance. And we're finding it, not just on a weekly basis, on a daily basis, on an hourly basis; what do we need to do within our system to be able to continuously adjust to the surge of patients that we are seeing that are impacting our hospitals and our health centres across the province.”

In another round, Meili asked, “How, and when, did they start recruiting doctors and nurses needed for our field hospitals?”

Merriman said, “Everybody across our country, and across North America, is recruiting health care people, whether it be doctors, nurses, LPNs, carry aids; all of these people are in high demand.”

“We have worked with the SHA and recalling nurses and other health care professionals that have retired back into our system. We’ve also made sure that we're elevating the scope of every person within the healthcare system, to be able to maximize their scope and their abilities to be able to help out.

“This is all hands on deck,” Merriman said.

Speaking to reporters afterward, Meili pointed out, “The premier wouldn’t answer them, and then the Minister of Health didn’t get up either – basic, simple questions on staffing, on ICU numbers. They just simply refuse to tell us. This is information they should have.”

Meili continued, “The field hospitals actually aren't ICU. Those are very different things. ICUs are where you're going to have the ventilator capacity, where you can take care of the sickest people. Right now, we have 26 patients in our ICUs. That's over a quarter of the ICU beds in the entire province, already taken up by COVID-19 patients. The minister, the previous minister promised 400 new ICU beds last summer, and they won't even tell us the numbers. Well, we know the numbers. There's less than 100 ICU beds ready to go and staffed in the province, right now. Not 400, like the minister promised, because they didn't do the work. They thought this was over. They took the summer off. And now we're all facing a situation where we're scrambling to get ready without the resources available.”

Merriman told reporters, “within our hospitals, we have a very staggered system, as far as what we were looking at, where we can pull services back. And that could create an ICU bed. But we need to be able to that. Is there a specific number we have, within our field hospitals, a specific number of how many ICU beds are in there? But again, the field hospitals are a last resort, we feel that we can manage things, right now, within our healthcare system. But we built the field hospitals, just in case things got that bad. And I hope we don't have to use them. But they're there in case you do need them.”

He said minor reductions of services have been done across the province, and that will be continued, depending on the numbers.

Brian Zinchuk, Local Journalism Initiative reporter, Estevan Mercury