Rural residents in southern Saskatchewan will be going back to the Plains for health care.
Premier Brad Wall recently announced that a new Plains Surgery and Outpatient Care Centre will be located across the road from the former Plains Hospital in Regina, which closed in 1998 after a bitter debate.
The new centre will serve as an ambulatory facility providing day surgery, diagnostic imaging, pharmacy, rehabilitation and outpatient cancer care. Any health service that doesn’t require an overnight stay could be offered in the new building.
The provincial government announced approval in principle for the 200,000 sq. foot facility to be located on land it already owns. It will pay half the estimated $50 to $60 million price tag. The Hospitals of Regina Foundation, the Regina Qu’Appelle Health Region and the Saskatchewan Cancer Agency will also be involved in the project.
The planning and design phase is expected to take six months, while construction will take 20 to 24 months.
“It will provide easy access to both urban and rural patients,” Wall said. “It will reduce the workload at Regina’s hospitals.”
Regina was left with the General and Pasqua hospitals when the Plains closed. They have struggled to keep up with the demands placed on them, Wall said, and other health regions have made better progress on reducing wait times.
“The problems we have in Regina are serious problems in terms of more than periodic demand on the facilities.”
Moving day surgeries out of the two hospitals to the Plains should open up space in operating rooms, he said.
Dwight Nelson, chief executive officer of the health region, said 40,000 outpatient procedures are done each year.
“Anything that doesn’t require an overnight stay, we want to put on the table in the planning phases and say, ‘does it make sense to keep it in our busy hospitals that are overstressed and pretty tough to park at?’ ” he said. “Or does it make sense to have it in a place that people can navigate around?”
Staffing and operating costs have yet to be worked out. Agreements between the health region and private surgical providers are in place until the end of 2013, and Nelson said the new facility won’t be ready by then. Those partnerships will be re-evaluated.
Wall said all options within the public health care system are on the table as the province works to reach its objective of no one waiting longer than three months for surgery.
Health minister Dustin Duncan said the new facility will improve care for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy.
“For somebody that has a suppressed immune system, it’s probably a good thing to have them not going into a hospital,” he said.
Ideally, all outpatient procedures would eventually move to the Plains, but Duncan said it’s too soon to say whether that will happen.
Scott Livingstone, CEO of the Saskatchewan Cancer Agency, said patients who make multiple visits to multiple sites over a couple of years of treatment would benefit from going to one place.
Ninety percent of cancer patients receive treatment as outpatients, he added.
The new facility was announced in the boardroom of the former Plains hospital, which now serves as a Saskatchewan Institute of Applied Science and Technology facility.
Many rural people viewed the decision to close the Plains as a slight against them. The facility was built in the 1970s to serve southern Saskatchewan residents.
Wall said the closure was a wrong choice and resulted in a dramatic reduction of training seats. However, those kinds of decisions were made across Canada at the time, he added.