Murray Mandryk: Time for Sask. to consider real health-care solutions

Hasn’t this 17-year-old Sask. Party government had enough time or invested enough money to remedy those hospital closures of 30 years ago?

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Perhaps it’s time to admit throwing money at every problem in Saskatchewan’s health-care system isn’t the entire solution.

Been there. Done that. Yet problems aren’t going away.

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The Saskatchewan Party government still faces a daily harangue from Opposition New Democrats for spending more on out-of-province private surgeries and out-of-province contract travel nurses.

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Somehow, spitting back that the NDP government closed 52 rural hospitals and the Plains Health Centre in 1993 doesn’t appear to be solving much.

Besides, hasn’t this 17-year-old Sask. Party government had enough time or invested enough money to remedy those hospital closures of three decades ago? Isn’t it time to sit down with doctors, nurses, other health-care providers and experts to develop a co-operative, meaningful strategy?

Certainly, the Sask. Party government has been fearless when it comes to health spending — especially capital spending.

Since the last NDP government-delivered budget of 2006-07, we have gone from $3.2 billion in annual spending on health to $7.6 billion the Sask. Party government is expected to dole out in 2024-25.

A lot of that spending since 2007 has been for capital projects, including: $407 million for the Saskatchewan Hospital North Battleford; $258 million for the Jim Pattison Children’s Hospital; $153 million for the Parkland Integrated Health Centre in Premier Scott Moe’s Shellbrook constituency; $108 million for the Meadows long-term care facility in Swift Current, $79.6 million for the Dr. F.H. Wigmore Regional Hospital in Moose Jaw and $56 million for the Roy Romanow Provincial Laboratory in Saskatoon.

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This is separate from the $464 million for 15 long-term care facilities in Biggar, Kelvington, Kerrobert, Kipling, Maple Creek, Meadow Lake, Prince Albert, Radville, Redvers, Rosetown, Shellbrook, Tisdale, Watrous, Swift Current and Saskatoon.

Nor does it include renovation projects like the $153-million Herb Bassett Home long-term facility in Prince Albert, $28 million for the RAWLCO Centre for Mother Baby Care in Regina, and $25 million for 89 additional beds for Oliver Lodge in Saskatoon.

Also, there are 15 other health-related projects started or in the works, including a massively expensive expansion and renovation of the Victoria Hospital in Prince Albert, the replacement of regional hospitals in Weyburn and Yorkton and urgent care centres in Regina and Saskatoon.

Admittedly, it’s pretty hard to refute that aging facilities need replacing or that doctors need a place to doctor and nurses need a place to nurse. But if building more health care monuments were the only answer needed, would we still be encountering repeated problems?

For example, NDP rural and remote health critic Jared Clarke noted Monday there have been 950 temporary hospital service closures/disruptions of emergency care, X-ray or lab tech services between August 2019 and July 2023 in the province.

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Health Minister Everett Hindley acknowledged there have been staffing issues since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic — which is why the government is investing $140 million in health-care retention and recruitment.

Sometimes, spending more is the only solution — which is why the government says it needs to fork over stacks of cash for travel nurses or wait-list reduction strategies.

But Clarke noted the government spent $59 million last year on travel nurses and is budgeting $70 million in 2024-25, according to the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses (SUN).

In fact, a group of 49 emergency room nurses at Saskatoon’s St. Paul’s Hospital recently wrote Hindley, noting the average travel nurse salary is $289,256 a year — almost three times the salary of permanent nurses who are now having trouble booking shifts and getting more overtime.

Similarly, the solution to addressing a medium-time, 318-day wait for surgery in Saskatchewan (the national average is 161 days) has been to contract the private Surgical Centres Inc. for $6 million.

Of late, this issue is bogged down in the political fight over its parent organization, Clearpoint Health Network of Calgary, contributing $14,000 to the Sask. Party and hiring former finance minister Kevin Doherty as a  lobbyist — fuelling questions of whether this is another case of throwing good money after bad.

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Isn’t it high time to set aside politics and carefully examine better alternatives to health-care delivery?

Or will we simply keeping throwing more money at the same issues and keep getting the same results?

Murray Mandryk is the political columnist for Regina Leader-Post and the Saskatoon StarPhoenix.

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