The Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) has begun to resume some health services in varying parts of the province as a cautious first step toward re-opening the health system.
“It’s a delicate balance we begin today toward a ‘new normal’ while still responding to the realities of a global pandemic,” SHA CEO Scott Livingstone said. “Teams have and will continue to balance service resumption plans with the necessary health system capacity required for COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 patients; including the need for ongoing expanded testing capacity, long term contact tracing demands and maintaining the ability for the foreseeable future to surge to meet the requirements when localized outbreaks happen.”
May 19 marked the first day of phase one, with a focus on resuming a few everyday services such as outpatient physiotherapy appointments, kidney health services, some laboratory services, home care (e.g. bathing services) and expanded immunizations. As part of taking an approach that is tailored to health system readiness in various areas of the province, it should be noted that not all services listed in phase one began immediately on May 19.
The services listed in phase one of the plan are those that may start beginning May 19, subject to an approval process that ensures service resumption is undertaken in a considered, thoughtful and safe manner.
Some areas of the province will be ready to resume services, while others are not yet ready. In many cases, the public can expect that their health care experience will be different than prior to the pandemic because of additional measures in place to protect patients and staff. These include adaptation of waiting room practices to promote physical distancing, additional emphasis on virtual care, wherever possible, and additional screening at health care facilities.
The SHA is asking for patience, as these practices are necessary for safety reasons but may cause delays and inconveniences for patients seeking care as services resume. Phase one will also include an expansion of surgeries beyond “three week urgent and emergent cases” to now include “six week urgent cases”.
A pause on non-urgent and elective surgeries two months ago was necessary to minimize risk to those not needing emergent care, while ensuring hospitals had capacity for a surge in COVID patients. While that need has not changed, the SHA also recognizes the importance of cautiously increasing surgeries for the physical and mental well-being of those on waiting lists.
“A patient’s priority on the surgery list will be determined based on a clinical assessment by their physicians, in consultation with the patient,” SHA’s Physician Executive of Integrated Health Urban Dr. Rashaad Hansia said. “It’s not based only on the type of surgery needed. Given the complexity of the work involved to resume surgical services in as safe a manner as possible, we won’t see a significant increase right away. What we are seeing is surgeons working with their patients to assess their needs and determine who qualifies for the six week urgent category, then scheduling those for today and in the weeks ahead.”
The priority of surgeries resumed is being done in collaboration with surgeons, and based on their assessments of patients and recommendations. The availability of surgical bookings for each provider is being balanced across all the surgical specialties, and considers the availability of appropriate post-surgical care such as nursing and therapies. Medical Imaging departments are also cautiously increasing CT, MRI and other diagnostic testing to enable non-urgent and elective exams.
However, surgery bookings and the other every day health services resuming today, and in the days ahead, will not be resumed based on a one size fits all approach.
Service resumption will vary based on a multitude of factors, including considerations around localized outbreak status, capacity, requirements around adhering to public health orders and other factors used to ensure safety and readiness.
Details on SHA’s Service Resumption Plan can be found at www.saskatchewan.ca/COVID-19 under Health System Pandemic Response at https://www.saskatchewan.ca/government/health-care-administration-and-provider-resources/treatment-procedures-and-guidelines/emerging-public-health-issues/2019-novel-coronavirus/pandemic-planning.