Northern Sask. residents denied some medical services, hotel rooms in south

Some residents in northern Saskatchewan say they are being denied certain medical services because they are from the north.

Health ministry says appointments 'should go ahead as scheduled'

The Smiths were told by three different optometrists in Saskatoon that they couldn't book an appointment because they're coming from the north. (Submitted by Leeann Smith)

Some residents in northern Saskatchewan say they are being denied certain medical services in the southern part of the province because they live in the north, where most of Saskatchewan's COVID-19 cases are located. 

Leeann Smith of Pinehouse Lake booked a dentist appointment for her husband Jason in Saskatoon, a five-hour drive south, and thought she'd try to kill two birds with one stone by booking him an optometrist appointment in Saskatoon for the same trip. Smith said she called three different offices in the city and that all three said they weren't seeing patients from the north.

Smith said her husband's vision is worsening and he was really hoping to get glasses so he could drive at night.

"I was very troubled and so angry," she said about being rejected.

"I told them ... there's no active cases [in Pinehouse]. And they said it doesn't matter and that they will not be seeing anybody from the far north."

There are 99 active COVID-19 cases in Saskatchewan as of Friday, with most of those infections located in the La Loche area in the far northwest. Travel restrictions still apply to the northwestern region, but people are allowed to travel south for medical appointments.

A statement from the provincial Ministry of Health Friday said medical and health appointments "should go ahead as scheduled."

"While there is an outbreak in the northwest part of the province, the risk of contracting COVID-19 exists throughout Saskatchewan. All residents providing services, whether medical or pharmacy, hospitality, grocery stores or gas stations, should be taking the necessary precautions no matter their location," the statement said.

Sheila Spence, executive director of Saskatchewan Association of Optometrists, said she understood that northerners could only travel south for urgent medical care.

That is not accurate, according to the government.

Spence said the association doesn't condone turning away patients based only on the fact that they are from the north. She said it's likely optometrists are dealing with a lot of backlog. 

"It's part of our professional bylaws that all of our members must render services with equal diligence to all patients regardless of their race, creed or economic status," she said. 

"Unfortunately, we're all trying to deal with COVID as best we can. This is something new. It's scary."

'Am I to be denied medical service for two years?'

Beauval resident Catherine Currie says she had two medical appointments in Saskatoon cancelled, including one with a physiotherapist.

"To simply make a blanket statement that 'all of you northerners are not going to be welcome,' it's not judicious," Currie said.

Catherine Currie says it didn't sit right with her when her appointments were cancelled. (Submitted by Catherine Currie)

Currie says it's unfair and poorly reasoned to ban patients from a "geographical area that covers half the area of the province and just happens to be primarily Indigenous," when the virus exists in all parts of Saskatchewan.

"Some of the communication that I got this morning [from health practitioners] was, I will not see you until all of this is over. Well, if we're talking about the virus becoming something that is no longer a danger, that could be several years in the future. Am I to be denied medical service for two years? That's not going to fly with me."

Hotel room cancelled

Erik and Kate Peterson had barely started their long journey home to Newfoundland and Labrador from La Loche, Sask. when they hit a snag.

Erik had been teaching in La Loche, but was given the go-ahead to return to his home province early, as his work is remote now anyway. He booked a room at the Best Western Marquis Inn & Suites in Prince Albert online for himself and his spouse.

Erik and Kate Peterson were told they couldn't stay at a hotel they booked because they had just come from La Loche. (Submitted by Erik Peterson)

Erik's drivers licence lists La Loche as his address. When the hotel found out he and Kate had just come from there, they told him he couldn't stay.

"Most people in La Loche for the past month, since the outbreak really started, have been doing everything basically right," he said. 

"We've barely been outside our home in two months ourselves besides to get groceries."

When they rebooked another room that night, they used Kate's information and license, which still had a Newfoundland address on it. They had no problems. 

The Best Western hotel did not respond to questions.