Home Health care provider Sask. Heart and brain specialists prepare as healthcare slowdown worsens amid COVID-19 outbreak

Sask. Heart and brain specialists prepare as healthcare slowdown worsens amid COVID-19 outbreak

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The long list of types of medical care currently on hold across Saskatchewan includes home care, diabetes rehabilitation and counseling, but also major brain and heart procedures.

The Saskatchewan Health Authority has provided a general list of surgeries and other care delayed or canceled as COVID-19 patients, mostly unvaccinated, fill hospitals and intensive care units across the province.

It comes as COVID-19 cases continue to rise, with 426 new cases in the province announced on Wednesday, 54 more than those reported the day before. The number of hospitals also set a new record for the fourth day in a row on Wednesday.

Specialists interviewed this week, including a neurologist and a cardiologist, provided details of the changes for their patients. These include all “coiling” operations to prevent high risk patients from suffering from a brain aneurysm. In another example, all cardiologists were ordered Wednesday to cancel half of all cardiac stress tests, angiograms and diagnostic procedures.

“We are frustrated, tired, scared,” said Regina cardiologist Dr. Andrea Lavoie.

Lavoie and Saskatoon stroke neurologist Dr. Brett Graham said anyone in an emergency will always receive the same care as usual. They say anyone with urgent concerns or changes in their condition shouldn’t hesitate to call 911.

Indefinite wait

But the non-urgent needs of hundreds if not thousands of others across the province will have to wait indefinitely. Heart disease and stroke are two of the leading causes of death in Saskatchewan. Much of delayed care is designed to prevent or identify major problems, but that is not possible at this time.

“We feel for our patients. They can feel abandoned,” Graham said.

Graham said the COVID-19 outbreak has also affected where patients are staying. The most critical still have beds in hospitals in Saskatoon and Regina, but others are now being told to stay in Yorkton or North Battleford or other smaller centers. Still others, normally admitted to hospital, are under the supervision of home care staff.

The Saskatchewan Health Authority also said Wednesday that adult patients with COVID are occupying beds at Jim Pattison Children’s Hospital.

Lavoie and Graham said healthcare staff are working tirelessly to provide the best possible care for all patients.

But Lavoie said there was also frustration and sadness, because none of this was supposed to happen.

For weeks, medical professionals, academics, scientists, statistical modeling experts, city leaders and many more have pointed to evidence of a fourth wave driven by the more virulent delta variant of the coronavirus. The Saskatchewan Medical Association, the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses and the government’s own medical officers of health have asked for indoor mask warrants and passports for vaccines.

Anti-mask and anti-vaccine locals have rallied on several occasions to assert what they saw as their individual rights and freedoms. Premier Scott Moe and Health Minister Paul Merriman urged residents to act safely, but rejected calls for more government rules.

Dr Brett Graham, a stroke neurologist in Saskatoon, says anyone with a health emergency will still receive care, but dozens of their patients’ elective procedures and surgeries will be delayed or canceled due to the COVID-19. (Jason Warick / CBC)

At the end of last week, as the number of hospitals and intensive care units hit record highs and Alberta announced a slew of new restrictions, Moe issued the public health orders requested by experts.

Lavoie, Graham and others predict that things could get worse over the next few weeks until the new measures take effect.

“It was really demoralizing for healthcare workers knowing that we are about to see what we are, and that there was a way to avoid it,” Lavoie said.

No one from the Saskatchewan Health Authority was available for an interview.

But according to a list provided by the authority, here are some of the canceled or delayed health care needs:

  • Primary care – diabetes education, health counselors, chronic disease management.
  • Home care – education, therapy, foot care, wound care, nursing support.
  • Population and public health – dental health programs, health promotion, sexual health clinics.
  • Rehabilitation services.
  • Cardioscience and Neuroscience – outpatient clinics, including heart function and stroke prevention clinics, stress testing, lung function lab.
  • Outpatient services for mother and child – Women’s health center, outpatient pediatric consultations.
  • Geriatric services, including respite care.
  • Dermatology services.
  • Outpatient care – eye center, minor surgeries, cystoscopy, endoscopy.

An official with the Saskatchewan Health Authority said in the email that this list could be expanded or changed as needed. The official said all cancer cases, both emerging and urgent, will be given the typical high priority.