REGINA -- The Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) is looking for ways to deal with the increasing need for more ICU beds in the province.

“The system is not working as it normally has, not for non-COVID patients or COVID patients. We are putting stresses on the system that are unprecedented, particularly in Regina,” said Saskatchewan Health Authority CEO Scott Livingstone.

According to Livingstone, the SHA has already increased ICU capacity to 117 beds across the province, adding 38 beds to the 79 existing spaces. Livingstone said there are over 96 ICU patients in Saskatchewan, which includes COVID and non-COVID patients.

As of Thursday, there are 48 COVID-19 patients receiving intensive care in Saskatchewan hospitals. Regina is seeing the greatest number of patients admitted to the ICU. The province said there are 34 COVID-19 patients in ICU beds in Regina – the highest number recorded was 35 on Tuesday.

The SHA is now doubling up patients in intensive care rooms in Regina in an effort to keep up with increasing COVID-19 hospitalizations in the city.

Some facilities in Regina are full, so patients may be transferred to other cities. Livingstone said there are concerns about what would happen if other regions were to experience the same pressure as Regina ICUs. Adding more beds would solve the issue but it is more complex than that.

“We have as you know, bought equipment and beds…but the challenge we’re having is to have the right number of skilled staff and we are struggling to have that occur,” said Livingstone.

In mid- to high-range modelling scenarios released at the beginning of the pandemic, the province projected Regina could have an ICU capacity of 410 during a surge, with beds in the Regina General Hospital, Pasqua Hospital, Wascana Rehabilitation Centre and a field hospital at Evraz Place.

At the beginning of April, health officials said there were no plans at the time to open the field hospital in Regina.

Livingstone said the SHA has been doing more “service slowdowns” in Regina in an effort to accommodate more patients. He said surgeons have to decide whether or not to go ahead with more risky surgeries where patients have a higher chance of ending up in the ICU – like open heart or aneurism surgeries.

“We’re actually not able to maintain our usual daily types of surgery in that space because we just don’t have the ICU beds on a daily basis to accommodate,” said Livingstone.

Right now, the province is managing ICU pressures to where space is available with the expectation that increased vaccination will bring down case numbers. Livingstone said the health authority has already “aggressively expanded beds” and they will continue to do so.