Premier Scott Moe speaks in Regina on Tuesday, April 6, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Michael Bell

Saskatchewan activates emergency operations centre to lead COVID-19 response

Saskatchewan activates emergency operations centre to lead COVID-19 response

REGINA — Saskatchewan says it has activated its emergency operations centre so it can redeploy more health-care workers to hospitals that are dealing with the COVID-19 crisis.

Premier Scott Moe said Thursday that finding additional front-line workers is a major challenge as hospitalizations continue to break new records almost daily.

He said Saskatchewan may make an official request to the federal government for help in the days ahead, but first the province must make sure it is utilizing all its available employees.

That’s to be done through the emergency operations centre, which has previously been used to co-ordinate resources to fight forest fires and floods.

Moe said the centre will tap workers from government ministries, agencies and Crowns. And they will help manage the administrative side of health care to free up staff who can assist in COVID-19 wards.

“We are not health-care professionals, but we are supportive of health when we need to be,” said Marlo Pritchard, president of the Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency, who is helping to lead the command.

Pritchard said it’s not yet known how many workers will be needed to help the Saskatchewan Health Authority and the Ministry of Health, or if the redeployment will lead to a reduction of services in other sectors.

“Ask me in a couple of weeks and I’d be better to tell you how those resources have been better aligned,” Pritchard said.

Saskatchewan has the highest rate of new daily COVID-19 cases in the last week of any province.

On Thursday, Saskatchewan reported 348 COVID-19 patients in hospital, 78 of them in intensive care. The majority of them were unvaccinated.

In the past month, Saskatchewan has paused all elective surgeries.

It is working to add almost 100 ICU beds for COVID-19 patients, but the health authority is struggling to staff them. Last week, the health authority said COVID-19 patients are being put two in a room to manage staffing.

On Thursday, Moe questioned how many workers the federal government can provide. Eight military nurses were sent this week to help at an Edmonton hospital as Alberta continues to be hit hard by the pandemic’s fourth wave.

“We’re realistic about what the federal government can provide, and realistic about what we can source within the province.”

Moe said he has also reached out to leaders in other provinces to possibly take COVID-19 patients, but he did not name them.

He said transferring COVID-19 patients out of the province would be co-ordinated through the emergency command centre.

Opposition NDP Leader Ryan Meili criticized the Saskatchewan Party government’s plan to move resources.

“Shifting responsibility for COVID-19 from one bureaucracy to another won’t do anything to add nurses and doctors to our overstretched ICUs,” he said in a written statement.

In a followup interview, Meili urged the province to accept help from Ottawa.

“It’s hard not to read political motivations into that given how much he’s (Moe) made his career on picking fights with the federal government,” Meili said.

“This is not a time to pick fights. This is a time to ask for help and use every resource available. Waiting until more people die is absolutely unconscionable.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 7, 2021.

Mickey Djuric, The Canadian Press

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