Regina critical care lead would welcome ICU visit from Premier Moe

Dr. Jeffrey Betcher says he's met extensively with other members of the health authority about pressures facing ICU staff, but noted it was a recent visit through the facilities that helped them understand exactly what people — both patients and staff — are dealing with.

Dr. Jeffery Betcher says visit would offer premier perspective, staff members encouragement

Dr. Jeff Betcher, the critical care lead in Regina with the Saskatchewan Health Authority, says he would welcome a visit from Premier Scott Moe to the city's ICUs. Moe declined an invitation to tour the facilities earlier last week, but Betcher is asking the premier to reconsider, saying both him and health minister would be welcome. (Zoom Screenshot)

One of the province's doctors leading the fight against COVID-19 in Regina's intensive care units says a visit from elected leaders would not only be appropriate, it'd be welcome. 

Dr. Jeffrey Betcher, the area lead for critical care with the Saskatchewan Health Authority in Regina, spends his time between the city's two ICUs. He says his staff have been maintaining exhausting hours on the front lines treating those afflicted by COVID-19. 

He says while the Ministry of Health has been fully behind his staff, responding quickly to requests for everything from equipment to funding, he says elected leaders making the decisions around COVID-19 need to see what ICUs are dealing with firsthand. 

"It is pushing people to the limits," he said.

Earlier last week, opposition New Democratic Party Leader Ryan Meili invited Premier Scott Moe to take a tour alongside him of the ICUs in Regina. The premier, however, declined saying it would be "highly inappropriate."

But Betcher is asking Moe to reconsider, saying he thinks the visit will serve more as encouragement than a distraction.

"It's one thing for me to share with you the numbers and describe this to you, but it's not as tangible and not as real as if you see it," he said. "I'd love to take him and the health minister through." 

Betcher says he's met extensively with other members of the health authority about pressures facing ICU staff, but noted it was a recent visit through the facilities that helped them understand exactly what people — both patients and staff — are dealing with.

Visit would offer encouragement 

He compared a visit from Moe to how British Prime Minister Winston Churchill would venture out into the streets of London following bombing raids during World War II to show those on front lines that leadership had their backs, and getting their own perspective on the battle. 

Betcher says he feels the same could hold true for Moe, saying he would bring him through the facility in a way that is doesn't disrupt its operations, saying it would show staff, "He backs us up. He's behind us. He's with us." 

"Not that they don't think that now," he stressed. "But I think that's just another way of encouraging those who are on the front lines."

While Moe declined the NDP's invitation to tour ICUs in the province, he did commend those working on the front lines and acknowledged in the legislature earlier last week that health-care staff are working extremely hard. 

CBC Saskatchewan reached out to the Ministry of Health and the premier's office over the weekend for a response to Betcher's invitation and ask to reconsider, but one was not received by deadline.

Overall, Betcher says the SHA has been able to flex and adjust to meet the growing demand, but says the real question moving forward is about sustainability — especially as COVID-19 affects more families and young people.

"It's not just physically draining, but it's emotionally draining," he said. "Especially when you've got such a large cohort of very young patients."

As a doctor treating COVID-19 and witnessing the pressure it's creating in the health-care system, he says this is why it's so important for the public to continue following COVID-19 guidelines. He says the recent anti-restriction protests in both Saskatoon and Regina spurred feelings of anger, as experts can be drowned out by misinformation.

"It's very damaging," he said, warning the virus and its dangers are a reality.

Curve a 'straight line upwards' lately: Dr. Betcher

While he realizes the provincial government has to strike a balance between respecting people's individual rights and enforcement, they have to take action when people's safety is being put at risk.

"To me, it's black and white," he said. "You should shut them down."

He also noted as the spring turns to summer, it's important for people to continue following public health guidelines as individuals, getting vaccinated as soon as possible, while maintaining consistent hand-washing, physical distancing and seeking out a test if symptomatic. 

He said while the public can be confident the health authority will meet whatever challenges COVID-19 may bring with it, he says one way to help them in the fight would be to examine further COVID-19 restrictions. 

And with virus variants becoming more present, Betcher says it may be time for government officials to consider further restrictions, as the province must flatten the curve.

"It's more like a straight line upwards lately, so we need to stop it," he said. "Whatever it takes."