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Sask. NDP, advocates call for full reopening of Moose Jaw hyperbaric chamber

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Moose Jaw’s hyperbaric chamber has now partially resumed services after being discontinued in 2021 due pandemic related staffing shortages. However, only one patient is currently being treated, leading to criticism over a presumed lack of service.

Brayden Dutchak has long advocated for his mother, Tamara Heppner, who desperately needed life-saving hyperbaric treatment back in December.

At the time, Moose Jaw’s chamber was shut down and Heppner was forced to travel to Calgary to receive treatment.

Last month, the family was contacted by the Moose Jaw facility with an offer to finish Heppner’s treatment closer to home. Even though it was good news, Dutchak is frustrated by the problems the closure caused.

“The issue I have with that is they contacted us in the middle of March asking for all this stuff – I begged and pleaded back in December. She was on her deathbed in December,” he told reporters. “She didn't have time to fricking wait till the start of April to start her treatments.”

The chamber provides crucial oxygen therapy to those suffering from a multitude of conditions such as smoke inhalation or in Heppner’s case, recovering from radiation treatment.

Members of the Moose Jaw Fire Department, who helped fundraise for the chamber, were joined by Dutchak and the Saskatchewan NDP outside Dr. F.H. Wigmore Regional Hospital to raise their concerns.

“To hear that it hasn’t been in use to its full extent since 2021 is disappointing I think to us,” said Taylor Enns of the International Association of Firefighters.

The official opposition raised the issue during question period on Monday – eliciting a response from Premier Scott Moe directed to Dutchak.

“I would say this to Brayden, he is right. We didn’t invest in the hyperbaric chamber within the new Wigmore Hospital with the intent of not operating it to its full capacity,” he said. “There has been some human resource challenges … not only exclusive to the province of Saskatchewan but those are across Canada.”

According to Minister of Rural and Remote Health Tim McLeod, the issue stems from a lack of respiratory therapists in the province.

“During COVID, respiratory therapists were in high demand so they were transferred away from the hyperbaric chamber unit and we are actively restoring those services,” he said.

The minister went on to explain that the province has three respiratory therapists – the unit requires four to be fully operational.

“As soon as we have a fourth respiratory therapist, we’ll have a full resumption of services at the hyperbaric chamber,” he said. “Certainly we’re hopeful that one will be recruited in the very near future.

“It’s a priority for our government to ensure that those services are resumed in a full capacity as soon as possible,” he added.

McLeod said the province is aware of two people who require the chamber for treatment. One is undergoing treatment while the other is working with their physician to build a treatment plan.

The government’s claim that four therapists are required has left Dutchak puzzled.

“When that chamber was running a few years ago, they never had four [therapists],” he said.

Dutchak believes the low patient numbers are due to very few being aware of the chamber’s status.

“No physicians know that it's open,” he claimed. “I was talking to my mom's oncologist and they were surprised to hear it was open because they heard it from me. They didn't hear from the college, they didn’t hear it from anybody else.”

“That's why there's no referrals being sent over because nobody's aware it's open,” he added. “They're just being sent over to Calgary.”

For now, the chamber will continue to treat the occasional patient while others may have to be sent out of province.

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