Saskatchewan has suspended its organ donation program due to a lack of resources brought on by the province’s fourth wave of COVID-19.
The Saskatchewan Health Authority says that means if residents who are registered donors die, their organs will not be given to people who need them.
“We’re very saddened as a province,” Dr. Lori Garchinski, the health authority’s director of tertiary care, said Thursday.
“There has been significant work done to manage the organ donation program and we’re super grateful for all the families and the people of Saskatchewan who have made that decision to donate. Resources, however, right now, have to care for the intensive care patients.”
Dr. Garchinski said organ donation co-ordinators have experience with critical care, and they are needed to help with the overflow of COVID-19 patients in Regina and Saskatoon.
The province will continue to provide immediate tissue donations to eye patients.
Health care in Saskatchewan is being restructured to redeploy staff and other resources to help with record COVID-19 hospitalizations, mostly fuelled by the unvaccinated. The province has one of the lowest vaccination rates in Canada.
“Over 70 per cent of our ICU beds are being used to care for a single, preventable disease,” said Derek Miller, commander of the authority’s emergency operations centre.
That has forced the health authority to reduce 156 services, including children’s surgeries, therapies, heart and stroke prevention clinics, and services for sexual health and women’s health.
Dr. Susan Shaw, the authority’s chief medical officer, said the slowdowns are “having a real impact on the quality of life and health for many across Saskatchewan, and it will result in real harm.”
“Worse, if this continues, all life-saving supports Saskatchewan residents rely on will be in danger.”
Dr. Garchinski said that as of Thursday, 60 out of 84 people in intensive care across the province were COVID-19 patients – a record high since the pandemic began. Health officials are preparing for that number to grow to 125 within one to two weeks, she added.
If admissions were to hit 119 patients, the province would enter the second stage of triage in which doctors would consult with their ethics team to decide who received life-saving care.
“There was a lot of hope for front-line folks and Saskatchewan residents that the vaccination campaign would get us out of this,” said Dr. Garchinski.
“It does force us to move into additional surge spaces, and management of care that is already strenuous on health-care providers – physicians, respiratory therapists – folks that are just very, very tired.”
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