NDP won’t close rural ERs, will recruit for rural areas: Meili

When seconds make the difference between life and death for your child, having a closed emergency room in your local hospital is not an option. And that’s a big part of the NDP’s rural health policy, announced on Friday for the upcoming election.

Saskatchewan NDP candidate for Canora-Pelly, Stacey Strykowski, made this point when she, NDP Leader Ryan Meili, and NDP Health Critic, Vicki Mowat, rolled out the party’s rural health policy. They were standing in front of the University of Saskatchewan College of Medicine in Saskatoon for the announcement.

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Strykowski said, “I'm from Preeceville, where our ER closed four and a half years ago, and my son has anaphylaxis. So literally seconds are the difference between life and death for him. In rural Saskatchewan, the next ER could be an hour to an hour and a half away, and an ambulance isn't always there. So nobody should have to show up at their hospital and be turned away because their emergency services are down.”

She added, “Unfortunately, Preeceville was one of the emergency rooms that closed again, in this spring due to the pandemic, without proper consultation, or even no more than 24 hours notice. So these 12 communities binded together, and we worked hard to get almost all of them back. We're at nine. And I'm tired of dealing with these cuts, to have rural Saskatchewan be taken for granted, to have the dangers balanced on the backs of rural residents.”

Meili said in recent months and years there has been “a decline in the level of support that rural services, especially acute care services, are receiving. And we believe the wherever you live in Saskatchewan, you have the right to have access to health care that just because you live in rural Saskatchewan doesn't mean your quality of care should be less. And Stacey's story really reminded me of just how important that is and how much it can be a matter of life and death, whether or not people have that care close to home.”

Meili said early in his medical career as a doctor he worked all over, covering locums. Going through his list, he noted, “Arcola, that's one of the places that have seen their services shut down. Beauval, Biggar, they've seen their services shut down. Buffalo Narrows. Dillon, Esterhazy, Eston, Fort Qu’Appelle, Gravelbourg, Hudson Bay, Isle a la Crosse, Imperial, Kelvington, Kerrobert, La Loche, Langenberg, Leader. Lestock doesn't even have a hospital anymore. Maidstone, Outlook, Patchinak, Porcupine Plain Punnichy, Shaunavon, St. Walburg, Turtleford and Wynyard. So yeah, I've been everywhere, man. And you know what? I never thought when I was out doing that rural practice, I never thought, geez, these folks have too much health care.”

Meili criticized Premier Scott Moe for closing 12 rural emergency rooms as part of the COVID-19 pandemic response, noting that Broadview, Lanigan and Wolseley still haven’t re-opened. 

He said an NDP government’s five-point plan would “invest and take care of all our communities.”

Meili committed that an NDP government would reopen the rural emergency rooms closed by the government and commit to keeping all existing rural acute care centres open.

The NDP would invest an additional $10 million to address chronic short staffing and recruitment challenges in rural health care. They would invest in rural health infrastructure as part of the NDP capital plan to “fix crumbling rural health care facilities.”

And NDP government would convene a panel of rural municipal, health care, First Nations and Métis leaders to advise on improving access to health care in rural areas.

For his fifth point, Meili said “We're going to work with the leadership of our health sciences colleges to come up with an aggressive rural training program, where we're recruiting students in small towns, giving them the training in their communities, so that they're far more likely to go back and practice and serve those communities well.”

He went on, “People today have a clear choice; a choice between austerity between more cuts that will make rural health care worse, or government that's ready to invest that won't take world Saskatchewan for granted, that will put people first.”