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New study says half of Saskatoon hospital beds are unused

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Data in a new study from the Canadian Institute of Health Information (CIHI) shows nearly half of the beds in Saskatoon hospitals are going unused.

The Saskatchewan NDP says it's another sign of how healthcare in Saskatchewan is struggling and being mismanaged by the provincial government.

"This government increasingly seems to be content with making decisions in small rooms in Regina about health care," leader Carla Beck said. "These decisions need to be made with the information from those on the frontline.

According to the latest available data, the occupancy rate of Saskatoon's three hospitals averages to 52 per cent. CIHI calculates the number of beds occupied by inpatients as a percentage of all acute care beds staffed and in operation by using the most recent available data from 2022-23.

Saskatoon City Hospital had the lowest occupancy rate in the city at 36 per cent, Royal University Hospital/Jim Pattison Children’s Hospital had 54 per cent occupancy and St. Paul’s Hospital was 66 per cent, according to CIHI.

The Saskatchewan NDP leader Carla Beck says it's another sign of how healthcare in Saskatchewan is struggling and being mismanaged by the provincial government. (Keenan Sorokan/CTV News)

The average occupancy rate across Canada was 76 per cent during the same period.

"It was Scott Moe and the Sask. Party that broke our health care system, and it's clear they have no real plan to fix it," Beck said.

Saskatoon’s Jim Pattison Children's Hospital is an outlier compared to other Canadian children's hospitals with a 54 per cent occupancy rate. Alberta Children’s Hospital had an occupancy rate of 83 per cent, Sick Children Hospital, Ontario was at 76 per cent, CHU Sainte-Justine, Quebec was at 74 per cent and Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario had an occupancy rate of 69 per cent.

Health critic Vicki Mowat said the province's inability to hire necessary specialists is partly to blame.

"It's never been fully staffed with pediatric specialties. As a result, our kids and families are suffering," she said.

"Not only does it never been fully staffed, but we've lost specialists that we used to have here," Beck added.

Health Minister Everettt Hindley said there is "probably a correlation" between the occupancy rate and the number of staff working in Saskatoon's hospitals. He admitted he didn't read the study when asked on Friday afternoon, but he plans on looking at closely.

"It is something of course that is a concern. We want to make sure that our hospitals and our great healthcare teams are able to manage the patient load that is coming through the doors," Hindley said.

The health minister said his ministry is watching the daily occupancy levels of all hospitals in Saskatchewan and added they're usually lower at this time of year as respiratory illnesses are less prevalent.

To prevent people from being treated in hallways and repurposed closets, the province launched the Capacity Pressure Action Plan in Saskatoon and Regina. It also looked to solve other issues plaguing the system in Saskatchewan.

Part of that plan is to get more people out of hospital or acute care settings when they would be best suited in other settings, like long-term care. He expects Saskatoon's figures to change as that plan takes shape.

"Through finding other locations within the city and other areas, we're able to move some of these patients and get them closer to home," Hindley said.

Mowat and Beck are hoping CIHI's study will get the province to listen to healthcare workers calling for change within the system, such as establishing the long-called-for nursing task force.

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