At first glance, one might wonder why smaller cities and towns should be concerned about over-crowded emergency rooms in Regina.
Rural health districts, after all, have no shortage of their own problems to worry about. The struggle of smaller towns to find and maintain rural family doctors is still a huge problem.
Small cities and towns have enough to worry about when it comes to ensuring enough of the regional health budget flows to their community. One might assume that the last concern they would have is the woes of city hospitals — especially when issues like overworked emergency wards would seem a problem specific to the cities and not necessarily one shared by those with their own health care delivery issues in rural settings.
But there are many reasons why such problems in Regina or Saskatoon are a concern everywhere in Saskatchewan. And it begins with the answer to the age, old question: How many oceans are there in world?
The answer is: Just one. The separation of the continents hundreds of millions of years ago may have created the perception that we have separate oceans called the Pacific, Atlantic, Indian and Artic Oceans. But all ocean water is connected.
The same can be said for our giant health system whose budget is creeping towards $5 billion a year. The more money that has to be funnelled into one particular city to address one particular problem, the less there is to flow elsewhere.
Of course, some rural folks might not be inclined to look at the problem so generously. The bitterness over the closure of 52 rural hospitals two decade still lingers. Some feel it was rural Saskatchewan that bore the brunt of the austerity measures.
Unfortunately, that might be an oversimplification of the reality.
It is worth noting that the closure of the Plains Health Centre outside Regina — leaving the city with only the Pasqua and General Hospitals — is one reason we are seeing emergency overcrowding now. Since the Plains closed its doors 15 years ago, Regina’s population has increased by 30,000.
It stands to reason that overcrowded emergency wards would be become a bigger problem. And as of last week, the General Hospital had 10 more patients than beds and the Pasqua Hospital had nine more patients than beds in their emergency wards.
Add to the equation that many emergency rural patients — virtually all of which were once funnelled into the Plains on the city’s outskirts — are now being ambulanced or air-ambulanced to the Pasqua and General Hospitals. Like in the ocean, the problems flow from one jurisdiction to the next.
Another big reason why for the overcrowding is one familiar to rural people — the lack of family physicians.
Of course, this has less to do with the unwillingness of family doctors to locate in Regina — a problem that is much more acute in Saskatchewan’s rural setting. The problem tends to be poorer, low-income people viewing ERs as the only place they will go to see a physician.
Sometimes, the issue is simply a matter of operational efficiency and the Regina-Qu’Appelle Health Region has acknowledged that better use of the beds is the key.
But another part of the equation is that there are more surgical procedures being performed in the big cities, thus a shortage of operational beds that becomes a shortage of emergency beds.
And even if the solution doesn’t necessarily involve spending much more of the finite provincial health budget in Regina, the time and energy government and health officials are dedicating to finding a solution is surely robbing the system of energy that it could be dedicated to solving other health care problems.
Solving a problem one place in the health system goes a long way towards solving problems everywhere.
Murray Mandryk has been covering provincial politics for over 22 years.