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Concerns for Healthcare in Nokomis and Rural Saskatchewan

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Wayne Busch is a long-time resident of Nokomis, and he is also the former Mayor and Principal of Nokomis School. He wrote a letter to the Town Council with concerns over health care services in Nokomis and rural Saskatchewan. He wanted to know if the local Health Council continued to exist or if they were still active. He is also concerned with a lack of communication regarding access to health care and increased pressure on the only physician providing the services to the area. He is also concerned about the accessibility between the lab and the physician’s office and the varying lab hours due to the lack of employees.

Busch wrote, “I suggest we are heading to a situation where health care for our citizens will not be able to recover to pre pandemic times and rural SK health care is going to suffer. An aging population in our many small communities will have no alternative but to move to a much larger Center or city.”

Busch wants to see the Council push the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) and the government to outline their roadmap for health care services in rural Saskatchewan.

LMT spoke with Mr. Busch, Nokomis Mayor David Mark, and the Government of Saskatchewan, who referred our questions to the SHA. We also reached out to Dr. Lim, who said that “for now,” he thinks it’s in the community’s best interest to leave the discussion between the Mayor, the community, and the Health Authority.

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Mayor Mark sits on the Nokomis and Area Community Health Council. The terms of engagement say the purpose of the Council is “To promote the active engagement of individuals and communities in planning, reviewing and implementing strategies that both maintain and improve the health and well-being of citizens within Nokomis and the surrounding area in the Saskatchewan Health Authority.” The Council has not met during the pandemic.

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Mayor Mark said, “Nokomis has provided Health Services for over 110 years in various forms and today the Health Centre is a unique facility created through the collaboration of local Municipalities and the Sask Gov’t back in the mid 80’s.” He added that Mr. Busch was integral in creating the facility.

Mark said Dr. Lim is a hardworking, dedicated health professional that he admires. And Mark is thankful for his presence in Nokomis. “Dr. Lim’s practice here in Nokomis helps over 4000 residents in the region with their health needs. It’s a fact I continually bring up during our Health Council meetings with the SHA as a reminder that it isn’t just the population of Nokomis accessing the facility but 1000’s of people through the region.”

Mark addressed concerns with the pressure at the lab. “Our Lab at Nokomis Health Centre is run by an equally hardworking and dedicated professional, Paula Erhardt. She continually struggles with being understaffed, and I’m sure she gives more time than she’s compensated for. It’s a very busy facility which Dr. Lim relies on. Staffing it adequately has been and continues to be a major concern of the Health Council.”

Mark agrees with Busch’s concern of service levels is Nokomis and other rural communities not returning to pre-pandemic levels. “Using the argument of limited resources and associated expenses of the pandemic response could be used as a driver to retract services. We already run on a skeleton crew in most of these smaller facilities so don’t think they can retract without having devastating affects.”

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“I would like to know what the 1000’s of Dr. Lim’s patients would think if they couldn’t access Health services here in Nokomis,” said the Mayor. Adding to suspicions that services were on the path to being retracted, there has been a perception that equipment donated through community fundraising had been removed from the health centre. The SHA said that all donated items remain at the Health Centre.

We asked if there is a plan or intention to retract health care services in Nokomis. The SHA said, “There are no plans to retract services in Nokomis for the long term. Service may be impacted for the foreseeable future as Health Care Workers across the province are being redeployed to assist with COVID related work.”

We asked about the staffing plan for the lab. SHA said, “Recruitment of laboratory staff, physicians, nurses and other health care providers necessary to maintain safe and accessible rural health care is ongoing. Recruitment has been extremely challenging due to COVID.”

When asked what the plan is for rural health care services in Nokomis and the Province and if there is a plan, where can the public find that information. They said, “The SHA follows the Government of Saskatchewan’s Connected Care Strategy. Connected care focuses on a team approach that includes the patient and family and extends from the community into the hospital and back again. Service plans are developed at the local level, based on local needs. While the pandemic has had an impact on in-person meetings and meeting frequency, SHA staff have asked the Chair of the Nokomis Community Health Council to email any concerns for their attention and response. It is the SHA’s understanding the Council recently requested a meeting, either in-person or via teleconference, however a meeting date/time and agenda have not yet been provided.”

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We asked about plans to consult with rural residents directly. They said, “The SHA understands that engaging with local community leaders is important. A two way exchange of information will help SHA and local leaders understand issues and challenges facing the community and inform realistic planning and solutions. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, the Community Engagement Strategy has not advanced as fast as we had hoped as all available resources have been pulled into the pandemic response. Throughout the pandemic, the SHA hosts monthly Virtual Town Hall information sessions to keep municipal leadership up to date on current epidemiological trends, health system response, and the vaccination strategy.”

We asked the SHA what the status of an x-ray upgrade the Council had requested. They said, “Medical Imaging is committed to assessing purchase, renovation and installation costs for x-ray equipment in sites requiring replacement. Evaluations are prioritized according to service levels such as 24/7 coverage, exam volumes and age of equipment. Site assessments have been on hold provincially to allow us to focus on the response to the pandemic. We will at some point engage in conversations as capacity allows for a Nokomis site assessment.”

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