Leader still waiting

The delay in the reopening of emergency services at the Leader and District Integrated Healthcare Facility due to staff shortages has caused disappointment and frustration in the community.

The community has been without emergency services since mid-May due to the implementation of the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) COVID-19 readiness plan and the emergency department was scheduled to reopen on June 16.

However, the SHA announced on June 15 that the disruption to emergency services at the Leader and District Integrated Healthcare Facility has been extended for an undetermined period while recruitment continues for combined laboratory and X-ray technicians to support emergency and acute services.

Leader Mayor Craig Tondevold said the community was looking forward to the reopening of emergency services and they are very disappointed with the delay.

“We are frustrated, because we have a facility here that the taxpayers are paying for, we're paying for, and we can't use it,” he said.

The construction of a new integrated healthcare facility in Leader was completed in 2018, and the community contributed 20 per cent of the cost of this $12.1 million project. They therefore want to see the emergency department reopen as soon as possible.

“They say we'll never lose the services, but right now we just want to get it back up and running for now,” he said.

In the meantime, the residents from the Leader area have to call 9-1-1 in case of an emergency or they have to visit the emergency department in Kindersley, Maple Creek, or Swift Current.

Tondevold said the distance to the nearest emergency department is a real concern to residents.

“It could make a big difference,” he noted. “It's an hour and a half ride, whatever way you go, it's an hour and a half drive. In an hour and a half, a lot can happen to a person if they're in desperate need.”

The Leader and District Integrated Healthcare Facility was one of 12 community hospitals in Saskatchewan that converted to alternate level of care sites in May, which required the temporary suspension of emergency room services in these facilities.

This conversion of community hospitals to alternate level of care sites took place to build capacity within the health system for any potential surge in COVID-19 cases.

According to Tondevold that arrangement did not make sense to the community, because there was no actual surge in COVID-19 cases.

“If we have a major outbreak of COVID in this area, we would lose our emergency services, because the doctors would probably move to where they're dealing with the COVID, which was going to be Maple Creek, and we were fine with that,” he mentioned. “But then in May they shut our services, but we had no COVID here and they shut the services down because of training, they said. So we really had a hard time with that too, because there was nothing going on, there's nobody sick, and they're shutting us down.”

There have been temporary disruptions to emergency services at the Leader facility in the past, but never for such a long time.

“We've had eight hours of disruption, but rarely do we ever lose weeks,” he said. “It seems like every time we have a shortage of staff, they have to shut down our emergency.

Tondevold is concerned about the difficulties experienced by the SHA to recruit and keep staff in Leader.

“They tend to use a lot of part-time people, and so people that are working in these jobs aren't looking for part-time work, they're looking for full-time work,” he said. “So as soon as something full-time comes up, they're gone. So this could be an issue.”

The SHA provided an e-mailed response to the Prairie Post with regard to the ongoing disruption of emergency services at the Leader and District Integrated Healthcare Facility.

“We regret that we are not able to reopen the Leader Emergency Department (ED) as scheduled,” the e-mail stated. “Recruiting and retaining qualified professionals to work in EDs in rural and remote communities is a challenge across the country. We remain committed to meeting this challenge and will be resuming ED services in Leader upon successful recruitment of Combined Lab X-ray Technicians.”

The statement noted that many variables have to be considered in the staffing of emergency departments, and the most important consideration is to have a number of qualified personnel able to adequately staff those departments.

“All EDs must have diagnostic services available in order to operate,” the statement said. “Staffing can be accomplished through regular staff scheduling or on-call schedules.”

The statement also referred to the reason that the reopening of emergency services at the Leader and District Integrated Healthcare Facility could not be resumed on June 16.

“The plan to resume service on June 16 was changed after staff members in the diagnostic services department gave notice,” the SHA e-mail noted. “We continue to recruit diagnostic staff and other health care personnel that will enable us to re-open the Leader ED as soon as possible.”

The SHA statement referred to ongoing challenges faced by several community hospitals in the province to reopen their emergency departments.

“The five community hospitals in Broadview, Radville, Lanigan, Leader and Wolseley will require additional time over the coming weeks to address unique circumstances related to ensuring adequate physician or staff resources are in place in each of those communities to safely reopen those emergency departments,” the statement said. “Barriers to re-opening are related to pre-existing or ongoing recruitment and retention challenges in each of these communities. The SHA will be working with those managers to help them work towards resumption of previous emergency department service levels as soon as it is safe to do so.”

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