Assiniboia is one of more than a dozen towns in Saskatchewan to face a healthcare disruption in the last month.
The Assiniboia Union Hospital is experiencing a service disruption to its acute beds, according to the town’s mayor, Sharon Schauenberg. However, it is unclear how many beds and patients are impacted.
The Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) confirmed it is not a permanent bed closure, but rather a temporary disruption due to a COVID-19 outbreak.
“The facility is currently experiencing a COVID outbreak, which has resulted in staff cohorting to ensure safe and continued care to those who need it. Due to these challenges our ability to accept new clients is limited,” said Dr. Johann Roodt, interim physician executive with Integrated Rural Health.
“The SHA has made community leaders aware of these developments and will continue to do so as the situation unfolds.”
Regular operations will resume once the outbreak is over, Roodt said.
Regardless of how long the disruption lasts, some residents are frustrated with the repeated disruptions to healthcare.
“You know what’s going to happen? Someone’s going to die and then someone will find a solution,” said Assiniboia resident and former healthcare worker Susan Jalbert.
Jalbert moved back to the community two years ago to look after her aging parents in their home. She said it is concerning how inaccessible healthcare can be.
“Transportation is an issue,” she said.
“Getting to another community requires, for my parents, myself or calling an ambulance.”
According to the government, there were 17 rural hospitals that experienced temporary disruptions to emergency services between July 1 and Aug. 8
The disruptions are a result of staffing shortages across the country and the province.
“COVID has increased the need for health services nationally and provincially and, given the specialized nature of health-care workers, the increase in staffing has not kept pace with the demand,” according to a statement from the Ministry of Health.
“While the number of practicing nurses in Saskatchewan has increased by 13% over the past five years, several factors are leading to recent challenges in meeting service demands in the health system.”
The government is addressing vacancies with overtime shifts as necessary, as well as with contract and casual staffing.
The official opposition, however, points to recruitment challenges and the lack of attractive job postings created by the SHA.
NDP leader Carla Beck, who visited Assiniboia on Tuesday to discuss residents’ healthcare concerns, said workers in the town are tired and unable to access vacation time in many cases.
“We’ve heard of staff at this facility working up to 16-hour shifts. We’ve heard of physicians being on call for almost 100 hours at a time,” Beck said.
The College of Nursing at the University of Saskatchewan is doing its part to train nurses in the province.
Enrollment numbers show that at least 345 students have been admitted into the nursing program each year for the last five years.
However, competition is much higher with upwards of 700 to 800 people applying to the program each year.
According to the Dean of the College of Nursing, Solina Richter, 62 more seats are being added in January. Another 62 seats will be added each year for four consecutive years to increase enrollment numbers.
“Educating more nurses is only one solution and of course it’s a four year training so it’s not a quick solution,” Richter said, adding it will be more than three years before the shortage is fully addressed.
“We also have to care for our current workers, retention is very important. We have to make sure that nurses are valued.”
Richter said it will take a multi-prong approach across a number of different sectors to fix the problem, adding the entire globe is feeling the shortage exacerbated by the pandemic.