The Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) continues to escalate its response to COVID-19, using the Health System Readiness Plan to guide actions being taken to contain, delay and mitigate the virus. This includes the SHA’s system redeployment plan to identify services that will be slowed to support:
• Additional staff needed to support a surge in testing and contact tracing;
• Additional hospital staff needed to support increases in COVID hospitalizations and ICU admissions;
• Additional long-term care staff needed to support staff cohorting and outbreak management;
• Responsiveness to situations where large numbers of staff are required to isolate due to being a close contact with a positive case.
To date, the SHA has been able to manage recent surges in hospitalizations and ICU admissions, largely through existing capacity and adaptations to services. These adaptations of services include the use of bypass procedures for high volume acute care units, use of surge spaces, the conversion of hospitals to COVID-only hospitals and temporary pauses on admissions and other acute care services in some areas. Small reductions in surgical volumes have also been required in Saskatoon.
Despite being able to manage with limited impacts so far, high sustained caseloads in the last few weeks will lead to increased hospitalizations and ICU admissions in the days ahead and require the SHA to step up phased implementation of its surge plans.
With the five-fold growth in COVID cases in ICUs in the last 30 days, province-wide ICU capacity is at nearly 100 per cent, with pressure points in Saskatoon leaving only three available ICU beds in Saskatoon as of Nov. 26.
Surging to the forecasted peak will require the SHA to create approximately 200 more beds for COVID patients than currently exist in all the hospitals outside of Saskatoon and Regina combined.
There has been more than double the number of active contacts in the last month. Current surge plans call for the SHA to add staffing to enable effective contact tracing to 450 cases per day and possibly more. Calculating based on latest data on average number of contacts, 450 cases per day would create 72,000 hours of work for contact tracers over a two-week time span, or an average of more than 5,000 hours per day.
“Scaling up on this level is a significant challenge, so we need the public’s help to ensure we do not face the exponential growth in cases going forward that would strain our ability to scale up on the timelines required,” SHA CEO Scott Livingstone said. “As an example, surging our ICU capacity by 449 per cent means adding more ICU beds than there are in all four of Canada’s Atlantic provinces combined, all on an expedited timeline while operating under the extreme duress of the pandemic, illustrating the scope of our task if we do not get help from the public.”
SHA’s surge plans rely primarily on highly skilled and trained medical staff that cannot be sourced solely through the labour market. That is why the SHA is working with the Public Service Commission on adding staff from the province and working with the federal government to add staff from Statistics Canada to the SHA’s contact tracing capacity.
Targeted service slow-downs are also being identified for redeployment of staff to the priority areas identified above in contact tracing, acute care, long-term care and other situations where the spread of COVID creates risk to SHA’s ability to continue providing essential services.
The decision to pause or reduce services on a local level will be communicated through the service alerts page at https://www.saskhealthauthority.ca/news/service-alerts-emergency-events/Pages/service-alerts.aspx of the Saskatchewan Health Authority website as well as through proactive communications locally, where appropriate.
The SHA has updated the Health System Readiness Plan 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 first developed in spring 2020 outlining the offensive and defensive strategies being deployed by the SHA.
With the recent surge in cases, the SHA is reminding the public that the primary factor in enabling the health system to meet the demand created by the COVID-19 virus is actions taken by Saskatchewan residents to stop the spread. Please help us by:
• Physical distancing;
• Washing your hands regularly;
• Limiting your bubble as much as possible;
• Abiding by all public health orders;
• Wear a mask whenever you are in public indoor settings;
• Stay home if you are feeling even the mildest symptoms as an increasing number of cases are residents going to work when sick; and
• Download the Government of Canada COVID Alert App and use it to protect yourself and your loved ones.