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'Get these doctors here': Sask. family calls on province to step up gastroenterologist recruitment


The Weber family is being forced to travel to Toronto due to a lack of pediatric gastroenterologists (GIs) in the province. The family’s situation was highlighted by Saskatchewan’s official opposition.

Zach Engen was diagnosed with eosinophilic esophagitis (EoE) in 2020 when he was 11. Since then, his family has battled to get him the care he desperately needs.

“This is one of the toughest years of our lives,” Zachery’s mother, Alyssa Weber told reporters during a news conference Wednesday. “We need help. We're trying to do it financially by ourselves, but we can't anymore.”

EoE is a rare condition involving the esophagus becoming inflamed and narrow. Due to this, Engen wears a feeding tube and can't eat solid foods.

The now 16-year-old also lives with autism – leading to added complications for the family.

“He doesn't understand why he can't be like normal 16-year-old boys. He has to suffer every day,” Weber added. “Be hooked up to G tube everyday six times a day. He has to have medicine all through the day pumped through his G tube. He can barely stand swallowing water or even his saliva.”

Saskatchewan’s last pediatric GI left the province in April of 2023. Since then, the Weber’s have been forced to seek out of province care in Toronto.

The trips have led to major financial challenges for the family – who are calling on the government to step up its efforts to recruit specialists.

“We have a children's hospital. This government needs to smarten up,” Cynthia Schneider, Engen’s grandmother told reporters.

“Get these doctors here for these kids. Look at this boy. Can you not see what [this] is doing to him leaving his family behind to another province when we have a hospital here in Saskatoon?”

Health Minister Everett Hindley met with the family following question period Wednesday. Speaking to reporters afterward, he reiterated the province’s policy of not covering travel costs for residents seeking out of province care.

“When patients need to be sent out of province or perhaps out of country, the procedures themselves are covered but travel and accommodations and those sorts of costs are or are not covered,” he said.

“Again, that's been the policy for years and years here in Saskatchewan.”

According to Hindley, there are 14 pediatric vacancies across the province – including 4.5 positions at the Jim Pattison Children’s Hospital.

The Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) is finalizing contracts with two full-time pediatric GIs.

“As soon as those contracts are finalized, we will make sure that the public is aware of that,” he said.

“I think we need three pediatric gastroenterologists at the Children's Hospital in Saskatoon and I would certainly not be opposed to looking at if we need more than that to be able to address the demand.”

NDP Leader Carla Beck tore into the province’s track record on the attracting specialists.

“The government holds up their most ambitious health care recruiting fund in the country. Unfortunately, it was also proven to be the least effective plan,” she said during the news conference.

On April 10, the government stated there was interest in a pediatric GI position. Two days later, the job was reposted, the NDP claimed.

As of April 25, two pediatric GI positions are listed for Saskatoon on Sask Docs.

Beck reiterated that Weber’s plight is not unique and many other Sask. families are suffering due to lack of specialist care.

“If you look at what was promised when the Children's Hospital was first opened, in terms of the number of pediatric specialists that we expected to have, almost every category … there are fewer than were promised in the province at that time,” she said.

“We should be proud of having a children's hospital but we shouldn't be proud of the fact that kids in this province have to fly to Toronto to get care.”

The Weber’s next trip to Toronto is scheduled for May 7. Weber shared her concerns over the coming trip – which involves a potential surgery to address Engen's stomach pressing into his esophagus due to a hernia.

“The surgery that he's getting is very, very high risk and he's already pretty high on the line of getting esophagus cancer because of how bad his esophagus is,” she explained.

Weber concluded that she hopes her family’s story highlights the plight of others seeking care across the province.

“I don't want families going through what we have to go through the last year and a half.” Top Stories

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