He’s touring rural Saskatchewan on a bit of a fact-finding mission.
Randy Weekes, the Minister of Rural and Remote Health, which is a brand new cabinet post, was in Humboldt on July 19 to talk to community and health leaders about local health care.
He was really here to listen, he told the Journal; to hear concerns, as well as give information, and answer questions.
After a tour of the new Humboldt District Hospital, which he called “a beautiful facility,” Weekes met with members of the community, the Humboldt District Hospital Foundation, local Doctor Recruitment and Retention Committee, Reeves and Mayors of local municipalities, and representatives of the Saskatoon Health Region and Ministry of Health.
Weekes said a big part of his duties as Minister of Rural and Remote Health is outreach, which was why he is on a tour of the province, visiting communities and districts to talk about what their concerns are as related to health care in the community.
“It’s been a very productive tour so far,” he said.
The very nature of his cabinet role is what motivated the tour, he indicated.
“The premier wanted to give a rural lens to health care. That’s my role and it’s proving very valuable,” he said.
There are challenges, he added, to providing health care in rural Saskatchewan, and he wanted to see what those are first hand.
“There are good things happening,” he said, “but there are obviously some issues.”
It’s very important, Weekes said, for rural communities to be active in their health care, in all areas — including recruitment and raising funds for equipment purchases.
In Humboldt, the biggest news he heard was that there will be five new physicians in the area soon, which solves the doctor shortage the region has been experiencing for a couple of years now.
“That’s very good news,” he said.
But other health care professionals in the city are also very good, he said, which is good news for the community, as health care really requires a team approach.
“Physicians are a very important part of that team,” he said, as are nurse practitioners and other professionals.
The biggest challenge facing rural Saskatchewan health care right now is physician recruitment and retention, he noted. That’s what he’s been hearing on his tour so far.
“Some communities are doing very well. And there are some challenges in some,” he said.
And issues with recruitment and retention in other places has put more pressure on Humboldt, he added.
However, he said, the provincial government has a number of things in place to try and take care of this problem, including a physician recruitment agency. They have also, he said, added more training seats for doctors in Saskatchewan, and are encouraging more foreign-born doctors to relocate to this province.
Health care in rural Saskatchewan, he said, is undergoing a transition, and he sees the government looking at other models of health care in the future, such as utilizing nurse practitioners more, as well as EMTs and paramedics.
Weekes is going to have a very busy two to three months, visiting rural health centres across the province, he said, and noted that he is more than willing to return to help communities with their issues after the tour is over.