Sask. towns frustrated over prolonged emergency room disruptions

Premier Scott Moe said on Wednesday the province is going to do all it can to re-open services in communities experiencing disruptions.

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The province continued to face pressure on Wednesday as town leaders raised concerns over temporary emergency room closures in their communities.

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In a news conference with reporters at the legislature, Lanigan Mayor Tony Mycock said residents have been frustrated because they haven’t been able to access emergency services in town for nearly two years.

Instead, he said people are driving 47 kilometres north to Humboldt, only to sit there for three or four hours until they receive help.

“It’s just frustrating for everybody because we’re travelling,” Mycock said. “We just have no answers. We hear that it’s going to open at the end of this month, and then it gets pushed off again and again.”

Mycock isn’t alone in his concerns over emergency rooms temporarily closing. Multiple rural hospitals have seen disruptions over the past two years because of COVID-19 and staffing challenges.

Speaking to ministers earlier in the day during a bear pit session at the Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association convention in Regina, some delegates expressed worries over health care and staffing in their communities.

“How long do we have to wait for health facilities to stay shut down or simply won’t be able to run when new facilities are going to be built? We’re already overburdened with vacancies,” Colin Ratushniak, the mayor of La Ronge, told cabinet ministers.

“Almost every single municipality in this room is begging the government to deliver before it’s too late for you, for our families, for our elderly and for our youth,” he continued.

Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Everett Hindley sits on a panel during the bear pit sessions at the annual SUMA Convention in Regina on April 6, 2022.
Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Everett Hindley sits on a panel during the bear pit sessions at the annual SUMA Convention in Regina on April 6, 2022. Photo by KAYLE NEIS /Regina Leader-Post

It’s an issue Rural and Remote Health Minister Everett Hindley says is a priority for the province.

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He told reporters that officials are working to re-open emergency services in Lanigan as soon as possible, but was unable to provide a date on when that would take place.

“We are trying to do as much as we can to restore services in any of these communities, where they’ve been impacted by a temporary disruption of services,” Hindley said.

Hindley said it has been challenging for the government to find health-care workers, adding the province has introduced a number of new investments to recruit and retain future workers.

“We know that there’s been pressure amongst health-care workers across this province and across this nation,” he said. “It’s a very, very competitive environment to be in right now.”

During question period on Wednesday, Premier Scott Moe stood up and told Mycock directly that the government is committed to these communities experiencing these challenges.

“Know that this government is committed to re-opening all of those services in each of those communities,” he said while looking up at Mycock in the gallery.

When asked what he thinks about the government’s plan, Mycock said he hasn’t yet seen it.

He said he felt compelled to speak up after residents continued to raise concerns.

“I’m doing the right thing for my town. And that’s being the Mayor of Lanigan and that’s my job to represent our residents,” Mycock said. “I get it, like during COVID. They (staff) were spread thin and pulled in lots of directions. I understand that. But our premier is saying we need to move on. So let’s move on.”

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Health critic Vicki Mowat said while province’s investments don’t match the scale that is needed to address the issue.

“We know that there are system-wide challenges that need to be addressed here. And to not acknowledge that is to do a tremendous disservice to the people of this province,” she said.

Mowat said while plans for a new recruiting agency seem like good idea, she wonders who will be at the table.

Despite challenges in some communities, Hindley said the province has made progress on the re-opening emergency services in other towns, like Redvers.

He said officials in Biggar have also expressed they are hopeful there will soon be a resolution to disruptions.

Mycock said he wants to meet with officials and figure out a path forward.

“We need dialogue,” he said.

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