Saskatchewan plans to increase ICU beds as COVID cases climb

The Saskatchewan Health Authority is preparing to treat larger numbers of seriously ill COVID-19 patients, upping the number of intensive-care unit beds to 130 from 79.

Health authority hopes to make 130 ICU beds available in the province

Health-care officials in Saskatchewan are temporarily reducing elective procedures as they once again gear up for a surge in COVID-19 cases. (Matt Howard/CBC)

The Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) is preparing to treat a larger number of seriously ill COVID-19 patients in the province. 

"The more transmissible delta variant has resulted in increasing pressures on Saskatchewan hospitals at a much faster rate than previous COVID surges, drastically increasing ICU occupancy and hospitalizations due to COVID in the last month," the SHA said in a news release. 

In the days and weeks ahead, the SHA has set a target to increase the number of available intensive-care unit beds in the province to 130, up from 79. The expectation is that COVID-19 patients may soon be using 80 of those beds, with 50 beds remaining to care for other critical patients. 

The SHA is also working to increase hospital capacity outside the province's ICUs so that an additional 255 COVID patients could be treated at any given time. 

And while the health authority works to increase its capacity to care for COVID-positive patients, it is temporarily scaling back non-critical and elective services. 

The SHA says it is committed to maintaining services for mental health, addictions and early childhood immunizations. Other patients, however, may be contacted about postponing or rescheduling procedures they had planned. 

"Saskatchewan residents depend on our services, so slowing down some services is not an easy choice," said Scott Livingstone, SHA president and CEO. "But we are challenged to meet the growing COVID demand while facing an increasing shortage of dedicated and highly skilled health-care professionals."

The SHA will also be moving some patients from hospitals near their homes to other facilities in the province, which will help the hardest-hit areas. 

These types of measures mean the health-care system will have more capacity to care for the most seriously ill.

But infectious disease specialist Dr. Alex Wong says the changes only go so far. 

"We don't have a lot of additional capacity," he said. "And our capacity to create additional surge beds — and, more importantly, staff those beds — is really, really limited." 

Wong says the provincial health-care system is already under "significant strain" due to the rising COVID-19 case numbers, with multiple hospitals on bypass and not able to take more patients. 

He says stronger measures need to be taken at the provincial level before the crisis descends on hospitals.

"It's very clear where this is all headed," said Wong. "In the end, if we do not have critical-care capacity, ICU capacity or even hospital capacity, then that means that we are not going to be able to offer the high-quality service that everyone deserves."

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