Sask. in talks with Ontario as it nears point of moving ICU patients out of province

No patients have been transferred yet, but the province is ready to do so, the Saskatchewan Health Authority says.

Move comes amid 4th wave of COVID-19 and continued pressure on hospitals, staff

Saskatchewan is in talks with the Ontario government about potentially transferring Saskatchewan ICU patients. The Saskatchewan health system is under significant pressure right now, officials say. (Kyle Green/The Associated Press)

The Saskatchewan government is in talks with Ontario about the potential transfer of intensive care patients, according to the head of the province's COVID-19 emergency response.

Marlo Pritchard, president of the Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency, made the announcement during a COVID-19 news conference on Wednesday.

"We continue to work to maximize our critical care resources in Saskatchewan and keep our patients as close to home as possible. It is critical we have contingency plans in place should the situation change," Pritchard said. 

No Saskatchewan COVID-19 patients have been transferred out of the province to date.

"We're close," said Saskatchewan Health Authority CEO Scott Livingstone, and the health system is prepared to transfer patients.

"It's going to depend on what we see in the coming days," Livingstone said when asked when transfers might be required, adding that some patients may not be stable enough to be moved. 

Livingstone said the health authority is currently prepared to care for a total of 135 COVID-19 and non-COVID patients in intensive care, but that level of ICU patients hasn't been reached yet.

With that many patients, Saskatchewan would not be able to provide an acceptable level of care to all, Livingstone said. 

"We have set the target lower [than 135 total ICU patients] for out-of-province transfer," he said. 

Staff burnout is also a factor in deciding whether to move patients, Livingstone said. 

'Already over-capacity': health authority CEO

As of Tuesday, there were 80 COVID-19 patients in intensive care in Saskatchewan. That's already more than the total number of ICU beds the province normally has ready for all patients (79).

Livingstone said that figure had come down a bit on Wednesday, and the number constantly fluctuates. 

Despite the added beds, "we are seeing unprecedented rates of hospitalization and ICU admission," Livingstone said. "This is pushing the system to a place where we are not providing care to non-COVID patients across this province as we should be, and hence the service slowdowns [such as cancelled surgeries], which will continue."

It's unclear what the current total of COVID and non-COVID ICU patients in Saskatchewan as of Wednesday is.

"At the end of the day, we are already over our capacity in ICU," Livingstone said. "So any major events … we would be triaging patients and sending out of province."


Guy Quenneville

Reporter at CBC Saskatoon

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