Several Sask. ICUs full, unable to admit patients

As of Aug. 29, there were 33 people in hospital with COVID-19 in the Saskatoon region, with 15 in intensive care. In Regina, there are 12 people in hospital and five in ICU. 

Saskatoon, Prince Albert and North Battleford ICUs are on 'bypass'

Staff on the ICU Unit at the Peter Lougheed Centre in Calgary on April 17, 2020. (Leah Hennel/AHS)

As of Monday morning, intensive care units in some Saskatchewan cities are full.

Saskatoon, Prince Albert, and North Battleford ICUs are on "bypass," which could be because of increasing COVID-19 cases, according to Saskatchewan Health Authority Critical Care Lead Dr. Jeffrey Betcher. 

In an interview with CBC Saskatoon Morning host Leisha Grebinski, Betcher said that means ICUs in those locations are full, and that any patient who needs an ICU in the north or Saskatoon will be referred south to Regina. 

"There are things like staffing issues as well, and we have to be able to provide the care that patients need safely," Betcher said. 

"We can't just take the patient because they need it. We have to make sure that we can meet the needs that they have as well."

Betcher said he's bracing himself for a similar situation to April 2021, when there was a record number of patients in intensive care.  

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"I'm hoping it's not going to happen, but as schools open and a lot of the restrictions were lifted earlier this summer, the anticipation and prediction is that this could well happen again. And we just need to prepare mentally for it as well," he said. 

A nurse wearing full personal protective gear tends to a patient in an intensive care unit, checking the monitoring equipment and adjusting the IV bag.
There are currently 25 people in ICUs across the province. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Beyond the issues this could cause for patients needing ICU admission, Betcher is also concerned about the impact on the medical community. 

"We don't just work and sleep, we need downtime to recharge. And a lot of that is not able to happen like it normally does," he said. 

As of Aug. 29, there were 33 people in hospital with COVID-19 in the Saskatoon region, with 15 in intensive care. In Regina, there are 12 people in hospital, five in ICU. 

Urgent action needed

Several members of the Sask. medical community have taken to Twitter in recent days to discuss what's going on in the hospitals they work in, expressing frustration and exhaustion. 

Doctors and nurses are painting a grim picture of crowded ICUs, and younger and younger people suffering from COVID-19. 

In an interview with Morning Edition host Stephanie Langenegger, infectious disease physician Dr. Alexander Wong said that the bypass is causing a strain on the system and that urgent action is needed.

"We're a small province. The impact of one or two big centres is going to be felt very very quickly across the entire province," said Wong. 

Wong said that what Saskatoon ICUs are experiencing right now is similar to what Regina experienced in March and April. It was so bad, according to Wong, that he referred to it as a war zone situation. 

"The challenge now with this fourth wave is we just don't have staff. I think we're pulling all kinds of people out of retirement from other areas and so forth to staff these critical care beds," he said. 

"And unfortunately, what that means is we may get into a situation when things are too overrun, where we're going to have to make triage decisions and where people who otherwise may have had the ability to get ICU-level care and critical care support — we might have to let those people go.

"We absolutely do not want to get there, which is why we need to take action now."

Dr. Alexander Wong, infectious diseases specialist, says vaccines aren't enough to get the province through a fourth wave. (CBC)

Wong also said that vaccines won't be enough to get through the fourth wave, and that other measures such as mask mandates should once again be implemented. 

SHA Critical Care Lead Dr. Jeffrey Betcher said that no matter the situation, however, if someone is in need of medical attention, they should seek care. 

"If you're in a car accident, if you have a heart attack, or if you have any of those sorts of emergencies, you will not be neglected," Betcher said.  

"You will be looked after and you will be looked after as well as you were before." 


Candice Lipski is an associate producer based in Saskatoon. She holds a Master of Journalism degree from UBC. Follow her on Twitter @Candice_Lipski or send her a story idea at

With files from CBC Radio's Saskatoon Morning and Morning Edition