Sask. health region cuts seniors program

The provincial government is cutting a Regina-area program that helped seniors with health problems get to medical appointments.

The Regina Qu'appelle Health Region is cutting a Regina-area program that helped seniors with health problems get to medical appointments.

In a copy of a letter from the health region released by the NDP on Tuesday, officials say the community outreach initiative was being used by fewer people in recent years.

The letter said the region could no longer afford the $175,00 each year it cost to offer the program, and felt it wasn't the best use of provincial money.

A spokesperson said an estimated 60 people were using the program this year, down from about 1,500 people who used the program in the mid-1990's.

However, patients like Anita Walcott, who has been using the program for the past four years, are worried about navigating the health care system alone.

"[The program] provided me with a support worker, whom I lean on both physically and mentally."

Walcott has lung disease and heart problems.

Since signing up for the program, she has been taken to her numerous medical appointments by a community outreach worker paid for by the health region.

But a few weeks ago, Walcott got a letter informing her the program was being cancelled and the worker would no longer be coming.

"You know, at times just having to walk a block I have such bad shortness of breath I have to stop three or four times because I can't breathe and then the angina starts."

Cuts will end up costing more: NDP

Saskatchewan's Opposition is also upset about the cuts, calling the move short-sighted.

New Democrat health critic Judy Junor said the cuts will make it more difficult for seniors like Walcott to get to doctors appointments and fill prescriptions at the pharmacy.

"This really is a lifeline for patients, and if people like Anita can't get to her doctor's appointment, then she's only going to end up in emergency, taking an ambulance which will cost more," Junor said.

"She may not be able to live alone anymore or live independently anymore so a small cost now — cutting this — is basically going to cost the system and the health system and Anita herself more money in the long run."

Junor said this is the same type of cost-cutting that health regions throughout Saskatchewan are facing in the wake of the provincial budget.

"Every one of them is looking at what program can be cut and so programs like this, that serve a certain portion of the population, are being cut," she said.

"They're small cuts that are just going to injure people who are on low income, people who are disadvantaged, people who are seniors [and] disabled."

The health region said it does not believe cutting the program will cost the system more, but spokesperson Michael Redenbach admitted it may cost patients more.

"That's true and certainly we do acknowledge where there could be some cases where the client will have to pay out of pocket for things that they wouldn't have been before," he said.