REGINA -- While COVID-19 related hospitalizations remain below the province’s projected surge capacity, the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) said staffing requirements across the province remain strained due to a high volume of cases in care homes and large outbreaks.

“Our teams have responded extremely well to a very difficult situation,” Scott Livingstone, the CEO of the SHA said.

“But sustained high caseloads and high numbers of outbreaks are straining staff capacity and requiring us to mobilize and redeploy high numbers of staff quickly, severely testing our ability to keep up with this virus.”

Saskatchewan entered into phase one of the SHA’s surge activation plan on Dec. 3. The health authority provided a surge activation update on Thursday afternoon.


ICU and other hospitalization numbers remain well below the SHA’s surge targets, but the SHA said its capacity is still being “severely strained” by a high volume of cases in care homes and outbreaks.

“The SHA’s emphasis on providing care in place in these homes, wherever possible, is diverting patients from hospital but requiring more staff supports than are typically available in these care settings, necessitating redeployment of staff,” the health authority said in its surge update.

“The high volume of outbreaks is resulting in significant number of staff isolating, often hindering business continuity for key SHA units and third-party service providers. This is necessitating redeployment of staff on extremely tight turnaround times.”

The SHA has met its goals to secure hospital beds for acute care COVID-19 patients, but is struggling to reach its target capacity for ICU beds.

The health authority is targeting the ability to enable care for up to 64 COVID positive patients that need ICU care. It said it is facing challenges meeting that target, mainly due to staffing changes in Saskatoon.

On the side of acute care, the SHA wants to enable care for 250 COVID positive patients requiring hospitalization. It has identified resources to meet this target if needed.

“While we have beds and space and equipment, ventilators and oxygen for that number, actually bringing in the highly trained staff to do that is a challenge,” Miller said.

The province reported 126 people in hospital on Thursday, including 104 people in inpatient care and 22 people in intensive care.


Slowdowns for approximately 200 services, however the SHA said many services continue as normal “until appropriate opportunities are identified for redeployment to pandemic response.”

Currently, surgical volumes in Saskatoon and Regina have been temporarily reduced by 35 per cent, except for third-party surgical providers.

The SHA has also temporarily disrupted all elective surgeries in North Battleford and nearly all elective surgeries in Prince Albert.

However, urgent/emergent and cancer care surgeries are ongoing. Elective surgeries are continuing at a relatively normal volume outside of the sites that have been identified for disruptions.

Since the SHA announced the service slow downs on Dec. 3, it says the staff labour pool has increased by 377, accounting for 64 per cent of the staffing targets set. It added that sustained high case numbers and large volumes of outbreaks still require additional resources outside of those made available by the service slow down.

“Even if a fraction of these facilities experienced a similar challenge like [Extendicare] Parkside, we would have to deploy hundreds of staff, potentially thousands, depending upon what response was required. That’s why it’s critical for us to have these service slow downs,” Livingstone said.

The SHA said it is pursuing additional staff through a mix of external hiring, allocation of government personnel, reintegration of retired personnel and volunteers.

Staff assigned for redeployment will continue to work in their regular roles, until they are needed to be reassigned.


The SHA said it currently has a maximum test site capacity of 4,654 tests per day, with a sustainable daily lab capacity of 3,400 tests per day.

The health authority is targeting a projected daily capacity of 4,000 total tests by Dec. 31. This figure does not include additional capacity created through point of care testing and third party testing options.

“We are generally meeting timelines for key steps like positive case notification. However, in other areas like contact notification and the daily monitoring of cases and contacts, we are struggling to meet the demands,” SHA Emergency Response Chief Derek Miller said.

With a seven-day average of 262.4 cases per day between Dec. 8 and 14, the SHA said contact tracing teams are generally meeting target times for positive case notification. However, it said teams are struggling to meet targets for contact notifications and daily case monitoring.

To support the province’s contact tracing needs, the SHA said it will be taking on 206 additional unlicensed government staff. It is targeting a capacity of 562 contact tracing cases per day, but a lack of availability for licenced health care staff is creating challenges towards meeting this goal.


The SHA said its personal protective equipment supply remains stable. It added all key supplies are currently above the six month target for estimated days of supply, as usage rages fall within the expected parameters.

There are currently 87 patients currently utilizing ventilators in Saskatchewan. This puts the demand well below the province’s total supply of 634 ventilators.

With files from CTV News Regina's Colton Wiens