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Demonstrators object to Kamsack Hospital bed closures

Approximately 300 people protested service reductions at the Kamsack Hospital while Everett Hindley, the minister of rural health, was there for a tour and meetings with community representatives.

KAMSACK — “We will get the beds re-opened,” said Everett Hindley, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, Seniors, and Rural and Remote Health, following a tour of the Kamsack Hospital and a meeting with community representatives.

“We will work hard,” the minister said on July 14, when talking to members of the press following a contentious session with members of the public, who had assembled in front of the hospital and were joined by members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) and government opposition.

Hindley and Terry Dennis, Canora-Pelly MLA, were met by about 300 district residents, who had begun a “save our hospital” demonstration earlier in the morning as they waited for the arrival of the minister and local MLA.

Placards being carried by the demonstrators said: “Health care is essential.” “Don’t shut us down. Help.” “Kamsack people and Indigenous people matter.” “Pregnant women and children are not getting proper health care in Kamsack.” “Our health care matters. Keep our hospital.” “Save our hospital.”

Demonstrators complained that the Kamsack Hospital, which had 20 beds, had been reduced to 10, and then five, and that was to be temporary, and now emergency services are restricted to between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Mondays to Fridays.

Hindley tried to assure those assembled that he and members of the provincial government are working closely with the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) to get staff hired for the facility.

“We’ll continue to meet to find solutions,” he said. “Everything is on the table regarding what to do to train and retain workers.”

Speaking at the demonstration on behalf of First Nations, Ted Quewezance, an elder of Keeseekoose First Nation, emphasized the need of the Kamsack Hospital by saying that while others attend periodic funerals, First Nation members have attended as many of three to five funerals a week.

“It’s time for solutions,” Quewezance told the minister, adding that the way the health care system has been organized, administration is now handled by one super board, effectively the provincial cabinet, rather than board members as had been the case.

“Politicians have no right to be making health care decisions,” he said.

Asked what the government is doing to remedy the situation, Dennis said the government is talking to staff and the SHA in an effort to address staffing shortages.

“We need more health care workers,” Dennis told the crowd, while members shouted back why that need had not been addressed previously.

Retired doctor, Murray Davies of Kamsack, attempted to explain how the Kamsack Hospital serves not only the community of 2,000 residents, but the thousands of visitors to Duck Mountain Provincial Park, First Nation communities as well as the farming community.

This hospital is 100 times busier than is Canora, yet the Canora Hospital, located much closer to Yorkton, is open, while Kamsack is not, Davies said. “Terry [Dennis] does not represent us.”

On July 14, emergency room services in Canora were closed.

In reply, Dennis indicated that the government has no control over where nurses choose to work.

Former Kamsack Mayor Darryl Binkley explained that the Kamsack Hospital has been the busiest rural hospital in the province, and expressed the hope that the government works to get it back to that situation.

The priority is to get the beds open as quickly as possible, Hindley said, adding that their meeting with community representatives that morning had been “productive.”

Attending the demonstration was Matt Love, a Saskatoon NDP MLA who is the Official Opposition Caucus Chair and Critic for Seniors.

“This is a government that refuses to take responsibility for decisions that they’ve made,” said Love. “After being in power for 15 years, the health care staffing crisis is theirs and theirs alone. The hundreds of people who came to this rally are tired of excuses, they want solutions.” 

Kamsack’s hospital is the only acute care facility providing service to surrounding towns and many First Nations, Love said. The last of the Kamsack Hospital acute care beds shuttered yesterday after months of service disruptions. Patients are being redirected to neighbouring hospitals in Yorkton, Canora and Preeceville, all of which have also been subject to service disruptions as well.

Service disruptions and bed closures have become a regular occurrence for small urban and rural communities throughout Saskatchewan under the Sask. Party government, he said.

“There’s only one party closing hospitals in Saskatchewan today, and that’s the Sask. Party,” said Love. “If they actually wanted to address the issues plaguing communities across the province, they would be doing what my colleagues and I have been doing – meeting with health care workers and meeting with families who are affected to hear the solutions that they have to offer.

“The Sask. Party’s head-in-the-sand approach isn’t working. Saskatchewan people deserve access to health care when they need it.”

Included in the demonstration were CUPE workers and a release on behalf of Tria Donaldson, CUPE communications representative, said that CUPE Local 5430 joins the Kamsack community to call for immediate steps to stop bed closures at the Kamsack Hospital.

As of July 13, all acute care beds at the Kamsack Hospital have been shut down, and the Emergency Room will only operate from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. until Aug. 31, the CUPE release said. “Our health care system is fraying.

“Communities across Saskatchewan no longer have access to reliable health care services, and the provincial government is doing nothing to address the growing concerns,” said Bashir Jalloh, president of CUPE Local 5430, which represents over 14,000 health care workers across Saskatchewan. “The lack of respect from this government is impacting morale, and patients, residents, and clients are feeling the impact.”

Kamsack Hospital services a large area of the province, including several parks with large populations during the summer months, the release said. “CUPE has been calling on some common-sense solutions to recruitment and retention. We need market supplements in hard to recruit classifications and communities. We need a representative workforce strategy to reach out to Indigenous communities. And we need more permanent, full-time job postings,” added Jalloh.

The disruption in Kamsack is just the latest facility to be impacted by chronic understaffing and recruitment and retention issues, it said.

“In recent weeks we have seen bed closures and ER shutdowns in Melville, Spiritwood, Esterhazy, and Broadview, to name a few. However, not all of these are listed on the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) website,” said Jalloh. “There needs to be more transparency from the SHA about service disruptions and closures and what steps are being taken to address the situation.”

As Hindley, Dennis and their entourage ended their presentation at the demonstration and headed into the hospital for a tour, members of the crowd could be heard booing loudly.