Saskatchewan

Sask. Medical Association president's letter warns physicians about 'tough times ahead'

Dr. Eben Strydom, president of the Saskatchewan Medical Association, is warning physicians that tough times are ahead but not to give up.

Dr. Eben Strydom emphasizes importance of working together with worst 'yet to come' in COVID-19 fight

An August 2021 file photo shows a health-care worker holding the hand of a COVID-19 patient in hospital. 'We are going to need each and every one of us working together with our health system colleagues to provide the best possible care in the most arduous reality we could ever imagine,' the president of the Saskatchewan Medical Association told doctors in a letter. (Kyle Gree/The Associated Press)

Dr. Eben Strydom didn't mince words in a letter he wrote to physicians in Saskatchewan about what lies in the days and weeks ahead.

"I am frustrated. I am angry. I am exhausted," said the letter, which is titled "Tough times ahead, but don't give up."

Strydom, president of the Saskatchewan Medical Association, wrote the letter after the Saskatchewan Health Authority announced it was moving to Phase 2 of its surge plans.

That means some health workers will be redeployed to areas that are experiencing a high level of demand — especially intensive care units that are seeing a high number of COVID-19 patients.

As a result, some elective surgeries and procedures are being postponed.

"It is understandable to feel anger and/or disappointment with respect to these decisions. Your patients have and will continue to suffer and bear the brunt of the choices made by those unwilling to be vaccinated," the letter says.

There are nearly 3,000 physicians in the province, according to the letter. While that may sound like a lot, Strydom wrote, "We are going to need each and every one of us working together with our health system colleagues to provide the best possible care in the most arduous reality we could ever imagine."

'We know that the worst is yet to come'

The letter also addressed the provincial government's announcement on Thursday that it was reinstating a provincewide mask mandate and implementing a proof-of-vaccination policy.

The letter called the measures "absolutely necessary."

"Do I wish they had come sooner? Unequivocally," Strydom wrote.

"Do I think the measures put in place will be sufficient? One might hope so but I am not convinced they will," given "worrisome case counts" in the health authority's modelling predictions, he wrote.

Announcing the mask and vaccine mandates on Thursday, Premier Scott Moe said, "we have been very patient — possibly too patient — but the time for patience is over."

People who are not vaccinated against COVID-19 "are creating consequences for others," he said.

Moe also said the government makes decisions based on the current information it has, and they're made "to ensure that we are preserving the health-care capacity that we have — the health-care capacity that ultimately the people of this province expect us to be providing."

A document obtained by CBC News — which was shared among health authority division heads before a town hall on Thursday — indicates that Saskatchewan could see a rolling seven-day average of 125 infected people in intensive care units by Sept. 30. 

The Saskatchewan Health Authority's modelling shows 'worrisome case counts,' says Dr. Eben Strydom. This document, shared among health authority division heads, indicates the province could see a seven-day average of 125 infected people in intensive care units by Sept. 30. (Submitted to CBC News)

"This is a major, major emergency in terms of health-care support. We know from the numbers that this is not getting better. We know that the worst is yet to come," Strydom told CBC News.

There were 51 COVID-19 patients in intensive care as of Saturday, which is second-highest number this year, just behind the 52 in ICU on April 23.

Strydom said making decisions on health-care capacity is important, but one of the challenges with COVID-19 is a delay in knowing how many hospitalizations there will be. He said it could take days or weeks for someone to be hospitalized after contracting COVID-19.

While he's grateful that the province implemented a mask and vaccine mandate, Strydom said at this stage, physicians need urgent help from the public to curb the spread of the illness — especially due to the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

"We know that at the best of times we have access issues in our province.… So this health emergency is on top of everything else," he said.

Along with following public health orders, Strydom is also urging people to practise physical distancing and limit large gatherings, while getting tested when needed and vaccinated as soon as possible.

Kudos to physicians

Although parts of his letter sound alarming, Strydom said he also wanted to give physicians the acknowledgement they deserve.

"[These are] unprecedented times in terms of the demand on the health system, and we just wanted to make sure that everybody gets recognized — but spend energy now to address this issue," he told CBC News.

"I know the burnout rate is extremely high among all of our personnel, but we need to focus now on the positive and the work at hand... We all need to stand together to be successful in this."

Dr. Eben Strydom, president of the Saskatchewan Medical Association, wrote a letter to physicians in the province saying there are tough times ahead, but encouraging them to remain positive. (Saskatchewan Medical Association)

His letter also encouraged physicians to reach out for help if they need it.

And he offered a message for Saskatchewan physicians.

"Thank you very much for what you've done. Thank you very much for your resilience and fighting this fight on all fronts."

With files from Guy Quenneville and Adam Hunter

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