Rural ERs to re-open next month in Sask.

Rural hospital emergency rooms closed as part of Saskatchewan’s pandemic plan will begin re-opening mid-June.

Twelve ERs were temporarily closed to provide capacity, if needed, allow staff to train for COVID-19 treatment, and to move some vulnerable patients for their own protection.

The closures were announced April 8, but communities expressed surprise when they actually happened in May.

Premier Scott Moe said the closures were never going to be permanent, and he accepted blame for the perception that they were.

“The onus is on me to communicate better that these are not being considered for permanent closures,” he said.

Health minister Jim Reiter also said better communication could have eliminated the confusion.

Arcola’s ER will be the first to re-open sometime in the middle of June. Another eight will follow: Kerrobert, Herbert, Preeceville, Davidson, Wolseley, Biggar, Leader and Oxbow.

Three others – Broadview, Radville and Lanigan – require more time.

“These three facilities were experiencing service disruptions prior to the release of the COVID-19 Readiness Plan in early April,” said the Saskatchewan Health Authority in a statement. “The SHA will continue to work with these three communities to create a stable staffing pool to ensure consistent services in the future.”

The SHA said it has to balance the risk between resuming regular service and the ability to meet surge demand if COVID-19 cases increase.

Moe said the time frame is driven by safety.

The rural ERs could close again, temporarily, if capacity is needed.

He said Saskatchewan citizens have done well to keep the virus out of long-term care facilities and generally out of the population. He said people have to continue to be cautious to prevent a province-wide pandemic, although he expects there will be regional outbreaks.

Expanded testing is key to staying on top of it, he said.

Saskatchewan has had only 637 positive cases recorded, and 559 had recovered as of May 27. There were 10 deaths, including one person between 40 and 59 years of age, five between 60 and 79, and four who were 80 or older.

However, only 45,118 tests had been performed as of that date, putting the province below the national rate.

Chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab said May 27 that 44 people had required hospitalization so far. They were from every age range, but those aged 40 to 49 represented the highest number at 11.

Of the 44 in hospital, 15 required intensive care.

Meanwhile, officials were investigating an outbreak after a Saskatoon-based family gathering where one person had tested positive and another test is presumed positive. Shahab said up to 60 people had attended the event, which far exceeds the 10-person limit.

Contact karen.briere@producer.com

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