La Loche doctor describes working in Sask.'s COVID-19 epicentre as 'hard, emotional work'

Doctor in La Loche, Sask., says we have to not only ask "How can we make this permanent and keep COVID from resurging?" but also, "How can we build a stronger community? What lessons are we learning?"

Doctor pleads for long-term problems like suicide, addictions, poverty not to be forgotten post-pandemic

The La Loche Hospital and Health Centre is a busy place, with spaces recently converted to assess and care for residents during the community's COVID-19 outbreak. (Bridget Yard/CBC)

Family physician Dr. Laura Tanyi-Remarck and her colleagues are working long days in the town of La Loche, ground zero for Saskatchewan's COVID-19 response.

The vast majority of the province's active cases — 151 of the 199 total active cases reported as of Monday — are in the community, located about 600 kilometres northwest of Saskatoon, and the neighbouring Clearwater River Dene Nation.

Tanyi-Remark spoke with CBC reporter Jason Warick about life inside the La Loche Health Centre and Hospital, this week's expected opening of a coronavirus assessment centre and her plea that long-term problems like suicide, addictions and poverty won't be forgotten when the pandemic ends.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Dr. Laura Tanyi-Remarck is working at the La Loche Health Centre and Hospital during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Supplied by Dr. Laura Tanyi-Remarck)

CBC: Like the other doctors, you rotate into La Loche for two weeks at a time. But some of you are staying several weeks longer this time. How are you all feeling?

Tanyi-Remark: This is the epicentre for the province. This is community health. It's hard, emotional work.

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It takes a certain type of physician to care non-judgmentally and to have a reservoir of compassion and love for this work and for people. So far, we're managing and we are supporting each other. 

What does it look like inside the hospital now?

We are hoping to open the assessment centre this week — we've almost got that ready to go. They'll come in the side door.

We have a separate clinic for non-COVID patients that's kept clean.

In the ER, we have one side dedicated to patients who are coming in with serious issues. At the moment, people with acute issues are seen in the ER and then sent out. At some point next week, we're going to reopen the acute care to readmit people.

Can you describe a recent day at the hospital?

On Saturday, I saw a lot of people. Patients are still coming in to deliver babies, people with general wounds, hypertension, mental health and COVID patients who could deteriorate.

We sent one to Prince Albert on a [complex] delivery. One was sent to Saskatoon with COVID complications. One was sent to Île-à-la-Crosse. We have to triage based on people's needs. There's an amazing team of nurses here.

Are you getting the support and resources required to fight COVID-19 there?

We really are. The SHA [Saskatchewan Health Authority] sent a whole contingent of people: IT, nursing, public health and so on. So far, it's been an amazing team to work with.

Then the local leadership is working hard to communicate with everyone. We also have to think longer-term.

What do you mean?

We have to ask ourselves, "How can we make this permanent and keep COVID from resurging," but also, "How can we build a stronger community? What lessons are we learning?"

We must plant seeds that will grow strong roots and bear fruit on all fronts: poverty, mental health and everything.

This is a community that's gone through quite a few different types of trauma. But this is also a community with a powerful culture. We have to be able to break down barriers.

We are strangers to them. But their resilience is amazing. Their strength is admirable. I've rarely seen this elsewhere.


Jason Warick


Jason Warick is a reporter with CBC Saskatoon.