SASKATOON -- The Saskatchewan Health Authority has released the findings of two studies conducted last year on patient flow and capacity issues at major hospitals in Saskatoon and Regina.

“Pressure on these types of facilities and their emergency departments has been a chronic challenge for many years, not just in Saskatchewan but across Canada. While we know that addressing these issues will require significant time and effort, we have already initiated a significant number of actions that we are confident will yield results,” SHA CEO Scott Livingstone said in a letter to Health Minister Jim Reiter.

A report by Accreditation Canada found that capacity challenges are due to:

  • Increasing patient demand and acuity
  • Delays along the care pathway
  • Challenges transferring stable, but high needs patients to more appropriate facilities and/or community supports closer to home.

A review by GE Health Care reached five similar conclusions about the Saskatchewan health care system:

  • Patients are often referred to tertiary centres when appropriate rural or community alternatives are available.
  • Patients are often kept longer in tertiary facilities than is necessary because of various challenges in getting them home.
  • Most primary health care networks or service providers have limited visibility on their patients in tertiary care or patients in the community with heightened risk levels, limiting the ability for these services to reduce reliance on acute care and complicating the discharge process from tertiary facilities.
  • Patients, particularly those with complex needs, often get stuck in tertiary centres because of the need for expanded and appropriate supports, lack of effective coordination between acute care and long term care and high demand for long term care spots in major cities.
  • Operational performance around factors like bed management, bed assignment, nurse handoffs, patient transport and other processes should be reviewed to ensure continuous improvement at all levels.

Livingstone noted four ideas to help a new Connected Care Strategy succeed, including technology enhancements that support data sharing and decision-making; enhancing virtual care options; extending patient flow processes to seven days a week; reducing variation and creating provincial standards and supports.

Concerns that smaller centres don't have the necessary support staff to treat more patients will be addressed through the creation of health networks, Livingstone told reporters Thursday.

Support staff such as respiratory therapists are only needed part time in such areas, making it difficult to recruit them. Smaller communities will be able to draw from a pool of professionals when needed, he said.

"If a community covered under the network needs that type of resource they can pull it down from the network level without trying to have to recruit it and it will be a way for us to serve those communities better without having to recruit part time positions."

The SHA is also starting a first available bed policy; once a patient is approved for an acute care bed, they are put into the first available bed, not their first choice.