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Kamsack faces major healthcare crisis with repeated ER closures

Kamsack health services are buckling under the stress of staffing shortages
Kamsack ER closures BE KIND_result
Widespread staffing shortages have been cited as the main reason for delays and closures in Kamsack's emergency health services.

KAMSACK - Mayor Nancy Brunt is sounding the alarm to residents of Kamsack and all surrounding communities.

Not only has the past year seen a major reduction in hospital beds – a 75 per cent drop from 20 beds to just five, an even more alarming reality has been the number of recent temporary disruptions to emergency services. According to the Saskatchewan Health Authority website, the emergency room services have been closed multiple times over the past year – and often, for days at a time.

“This means that anyone in Kamsack or any of the surrounding communities who experience an emergency event – like a heart attack or stroke, will be re-routed to the Preeceville Hospital, the Canora Hospital, or the Yorkton Regional Health Centre. When every minute counts in a life-threatening situation, the idea of having to travel for as long as an hour to get treatment…well, it’s terrifying.”

Mayor Brunt wants residents to know that hospital business, including staff recruitment is not in the hands of town council, and she is working hard to find out exactly who is going to address the issue.

“We keep hearing the words ‘nursing shortage,’ said Brunt. “But we’re also short on lab technicians and doctors. We are down to four doctors and two of them will be leaving by this summer. The few doctors we have in town are already stretched between seeing patients at the hospital, the medical clinic, the nursing home, and Eaglestone Lodge.”

The mayor explained how the hospital’s emergency department serves a surrounding population that more than doubles the entire population of the town.

“When you consider the number of people from the surrounding three First Nations, the two Hutterite communities, those who live year-round at Duck Mountain Provincial Park and those living or working in any of the communities that surround the town of Kamsack – like Togo and Runnymede, our hospital staff is meeting the demands akin to those of a small city. When the summer tourists fill the campgrounds and cabins, we can expect that thousands of more people are going to rely on our emergency room to be open and ready – should anything happen.”

Duck Mountain Ambulance CEO, Jim Pollock, said the closures also place a significant burden on his staff and services.

“The re-routing of emergency services to other communities is absolutely taking a toll on our staff,” Pollock explained on a phone interview. “If you consider the time it takes for one of our ambulances to be re-routed to Yorkton, sit there for a two-hour wait, and then head back for another hour – you’ve got that team and ambulance tied up for a minimum of four hours.”

Pollock said that, theoretically, if all of the ambulances are out and/or significantly delayed by rerouting, answering an emergent call in the Kamsack area may not be possible.

“Since COVID began, our call numbers have increased by 33 per cent. We have been so short-staffed that we’ve had to call in retired and semi-retired paramedics to help us out.”

Pollock added that because of COVID, there have been two consecutive years of cancellations for emergency medical responder training courses at Parkland College.

“This means we haven’t been receiving resumes from recent graduates. We are in desperate need of qualified paramedics – and the problem is, so is the rest of the country. This issue isn’t unique to Kamsack. There is a much bigger story here. There are hospitals closing in a number of towns across Saskatchewan. Our staff continues to come to work every day in a constant state of burnout. Let’s just say when they get a day off, it means a lot to them.”

Mayor Brunt said she has appealed to the hospital administration, the SHA, and the minister overseeing rural health in the province, Everett Hindley. After a meeting in late February, she contacted The Kamsack Times with the following update:

“Minister Hindley and MLA Terry Dennis assured me today that there are no plans to close our hospital and that they are working on getting nurses and lab techs to come here to work. Kamsack is a great place to call home with many wonderful things to do in town and in the surrounding area. We will welcome any who come here to work.”

Mayor Brunt added that if people want to see this crisis addressed, now is the time to speak up and have their voices heard.

“If nobody is complaining, things will be left as they are,” said Brunt. “There is a petition going around town right now. Our town councillors will be going door-to-door. The petition can also be signed at the Kamsack Town Office. I would also strongly encourage concerned citizens to take a few minutes to write Minister Everett Hindley. It could be any one of us needing emergency care. This health staffing crisis affects us all.”

To contact the office of Rural Health Minister Everett Hindley:

Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, Seniors and Rural and Remote Health

Room 208, Legislative Building

2405 Legislative Drive

Regina, SK, S4S 0B3