Sask. Health Authority hiring 90 staff to address delays for referrals, testing

The Saskatchewan Health Authority is hiring 90 staff to work on its hotline for COVID-19 testing referrals in an effort to address wait times it said are “not acceptable.”

SHA recruiting 45 full-time staff, 45 part-time to work for 811 Healthline

The health authority said calls to HealthLine 811 have tripled in the past month and the hotline has been unable to meet is 'zero wait time target.' (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

The Saskatchewan Health Authority is hiring 90 staff to work on its hotline for COVID-19 testing referrals in an effort to address wait times it said are "not acceptable."

Saskatchewan residents have complained of delays getting access to testing, with some reporting waits of five or more days. 

An SHA memo released by the Saskatchewan NDP earlier this week said most testing sites were running at maximum capacity.

"Testing sites have varying response times to referrals, again related to immediate demand and hours of operation," said the SHA in an emailed response to questions. 

"This variation is creating inconsistencies in how quickly we are serving our patients. The SHA recognizes that this is an issue and is working at decreasing this variation and ensuring the public has more consistency."

The SHA said it plans to hire 45 full-time and 45 part-time employees to work for the 811 HealthLine. 

It also plans to introduce new software "to improve information flow processes between 811 intake and testing/assessment sites." 

For patients who are asymptomatic, it is considering an online appointment booking tool to free up its HealthLine operators.

People who have symptoms are prioritized for testing, said the health authority. 

"Most sites are reporting that … turnaround times for testing are fairly good, but we recognize there are pockets requiring improvement," it said. 

'Cyclical changes' to testing numbers

The number of people being tested daily has been on a rising trend since universal testing began on July 14, although the number has fluctuated day-to-day from between around 700 on July 21 to almost 1,800 on July 25. 

"If there is intense case-finding onsite, testing numbers will go up and there can be cyclical changes," said Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab at a news conference on Wednesday. 

"We were quite low for a while but now that we see an increased number of cases, testing is going in the right direction."

The SHA said increased testing in the past week is partly a result of contact tracing due to high case numbers in the southwest and west-central areas of the province. 

According to the SHA, the lowest numbers are usually reported on Tuesday because they reflect testing activity on the weekend. 

"The data released each day is on the number of tests we have results for, and does not necessarily reflect the number of tests performed that day or the prior day," it said. 

The testing rate in Saskatchewan on July 28 was 70,076 people per million population, lower than the national rate of 104,992. 

Asked why the Saskatchewan rate is lower, the SHA did not directly address the question, instead pointing to its testing policies. 

"Saskatchewan has had one of the broadest criteria for testing since the pandemic was declared in March," said the SHA.

It said people can also seek testing through a physician or nurse practitioner.

There were 304 known active cases in Saskatchewan as of Thursday. The province said there were 119 cases in the south, 80 in the central region, 66 in the north, 29 in the Saskatoon area, five in the far north and four in the Regina area.


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