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Saskatoon City Hospital emergency room closure raises red flags for health-care providers

Saskatoon City Hospital saw an emergency room closure on Tuesday, which is raising alarm bells for health-care workers across the province.

Brittany Ellis, an emergency physician in Saskatoon, said emergency physicians have been shouting for many months about the challenges they’re facing.

“This is increased acuity, increased volumes, looking back 15 per cent year on year since 2020 in Saskatoon,” Ellis said.

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She said patients are getting sicker and presenting later.

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Ellis says this is a complex problem, noting that emergency rooms are a place patients go when there’s nowhere else to go, but it’s also a space where people go if they are very sick.

“Closures are nothing new, they’ve been happening in rural Saskatchewan for a very long time now, but this is the first one in my time, in five years here, that it’s happened in Saskatoon.”

The provincial NDP reported in mid-December 2023 that obstetrical services across the province were disrupted for a total of 98 days in hospitals between January and August of last year.

Ellis said it was predictable that these conditions were going to get worse, pointing to an increasingly aging population.

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“So there’s been a bit of a lack of planning and dealing with that initially.”

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She said extra weight is being put on health-care providers, resulting in more burnout, fatigue and stress.

“We’re seeing a higher turnover, we’re seeing people decreasing the amount of clinical work they’re doing because of the impact of some of the demands in our departments.”

Ellis pointed to the stress created by admitting more patients than they have beds for, saying it’s definitely stressful for patients and families to be placed in a hallway, but it’s also stressful to the service providers.

She said if they are to address these complex issues, planning needs to happen.

NDP health critic Vicki Mowat said the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) and the provincial government released a plan almost two months ago to alleviate emergency room pressures, but claimed that plan wasn’t getting results.

The Saskatoon Capacity Pressure Action Plan was announced Nov. 14, 2023 with a range of actions to be taken within 30 days to six months.

Mowat said this emergency room closure in Saskatoon was the first in three years.

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“Physicians are saying this a huge red flag in our biggest centre”

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Mowat said this is an ongoing issue in communities across Saskatchewan.

“Our health system is going in the wrong direction.”

Mowat said health-care worker retention is a key piece to addressing this issue, saying they need to have attractive incentives to bring in workers, but also need to look at why workers are leaving.

She said she was unsure how long the closure lasted, noting that the SHA only posts closures on its website if they last longer than seven days.

The SHA sent a statement to Global News, explaining that the closure lasted from 5 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday.

“This limited service reduction was due to an unexpected temporary shortage of emergency department physicians due to illness. During this limited service reduction, patients continued to be triaged by emergency department staff and an emergency department physician remained on site to assess, treat and support patients,” the statement read.

A sign was also posted on the building telling patients that they may be referred to Royal University Hospital or St. Paul’s Hospital.

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