SASKATOON -- As the reality of physical distancing settles in with more people staying — and often working — from home in Saskatoon, a planning document created by provincial health officials shows why these steps might have a huge payoff over the long run.

A Saskatoon without these measures:

Two thousand patients spread over three major hospitals and multiple field hospitals.

A need for hundreds of ventilators.

Exponential growth of COVID-19 cases.

That’s how the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) envisions the city  in a “worst-case” conceptual planning tool for a potential COVID-19 outbreak, said CEO Scott Livingstone, who explained the document's purpose in Regina after it became public on Tuesday.

"In the document, Saskatoon was used as an example of what types of planning assumptions as well as what types of operational opportunities we would have to deal with the disease in Saskatoon."

While Livingstone said the planning document was theoretical and doesn't take into account the many preventative measures that have been implemented, and differs from the actual SHA plan being developed for Saskatoon, it does provide a glimpse of the toll COVID-19 could take in the city if left unchecked.

“It's critical people understand that we've got to consider some of the worst-case scenarios when we're doing our planning," Livingstone said.

Under the scenario, at the peak of the pandemic Saskatoon would need the capacity to treat 2,000 patients, plus enough ventilators for another 500 to 600 patients daily.

Adding to the strain, non-COVID-19 care would still be required for a significant number of patients. The document also lays out which patients will be treated in which facility:

  • Saskatoon City Hospital would see the removal of alternate level of care patients, ambulatory surgery and clinics and short-stay surgery, while COVID-19 patients needing non-invasive ventilation would move in.
  • Royal University Hospital would replace neurology, cardiac, trauma and surgery patients with all COVID-19 patients needing invasive ventilation and some needing non-invasive ventilation.
  • COVID-19 patients would be moved out of St. Paul’s Hospital. Several other units from other hospitals would move in, including the non-COVID intensive care unit.
  • Jim Pattison Children's Hospital would see youth COVID-19 patients.
  • Field hospitals would administer oxygen and IV fluid and medications to COVID-19 patients.

Under this scenario, at the peak of the pandemic, Saskatoon would need the capacity to provide ventilator support to nearly 500-600 patients daily.

While the document was prepared as a planning exercise according to the SHA, some of the steps discussed in it are going ahead.

The SHA announced on Tuesday that designated COVID-19 hospitals will become a reality in Saskatoon and Regina. Work is also underway to create field hospitals in other parts of the province.

"The pattern in other jurisdictions showed we need to do more," Livingstone said.


With files from Josh Lynn