SHA focus now on shifting health services from ‘pandemic’ to ‘endemic’ mode

Following the upcoming release of public health restrictions on July 11, CEO Scott Livingstone of the Saskatchewan Health Authority indicated that the immediate plan moving forward will be to start shifting current pandemic-focused services back to a more regular routine.

“We know that we will have to live with COVID as they change the terminology from ‘pandemic’ to ‘endemic,’” said Livingstone.

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Livingstone spoke to the SHA board of directors during their monthly public meeting on June 23, where he shared both the chief executive officer’s report and the chief medical officer's report on behalf of Dr. Susan Shaw.

The short-term strategic plan for the SHA will be focused on evaluating the province’s COVID needs moving forward, and integrating them into regular health services.

“We know COVID is still out there and we know we will not have a hundred per cent of the population vaccinated, so it’s important for us to maintain infection control procedures,” said Livingstone. “[We are] determining what type of COVID response we are going to require on a longer term basis [and] as a day-to-day response, because we know there’s going to be continued outbreaks.”

Contact tracing, testing and vaccination staff will all be re-evaluated as part of this process, said Livingstone, as officials consider what level of COVID response resources will be needed to potentially “gear back up” if needed.

This includes looking at immunization teams and the role the SHA will play moving forward in delivering COVID vaccines and booster shots.

Evaluation of mandatory masking procedures in SHA facilities will also be looked over, said Livingstone. Although no decision has been made yet, Livingstone estimated that masking will likely continue in high-risk areas where vulnerable populations are served, like cancer treatment centres.

A large part of the one-year plan for Saskatchewan will include the resumption of postponed or reduced health services, like elective surgeries, diagnostic procedures and more.

Livingstone said that more details about service resumption are in the works, to be presented in the next few weeks.

Another large key part of the plan for the rest of 2021 will be redistributing resources and personnel back to the work they were doing before the province’s COVID response disrupted them.

“We want to ensure they get the breaks they need, the vacations and support that we can provide, as we balance expectations from our patients and families with respect to the services they truly need,” said Livingstone. “[But] we know there is an unmet need [so] we want to get out there with everyday healthcare services.”

Livingstone doesn’t expect that service resumptions will affect the SHA’s budget negatively, as the health authority essentially cut costs during the slowdown of services over the last 15 months.

The SHA is also currently working on a new model of public health, said Livingstone, that will work with the Ministry of Health and with physicians and nurses on how to better engage them within the organization.

“As we come out of the pandemic, it’s important for us to pick up where we left off pre-pandemic, with recruitment and retention of specialists,” said Livingstone. “We hope to continue that momentum.”

Restructures that were implemented during the pandemic, like shifting contact tracing duties from public health officers to other individuals, may inform new practices in primary and tertiary care services moving forward.

More regular performance evaluations will also continue to be made public, continued Livingstone, as the health authority prepares to release an updated four-year strategic plan in 2022.

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