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The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Saskatoon doctor alarmed by cuts to acute care beds at City Hospital

SASKATOON - A long-time doctor says Saskatoon's City Hospital is being underused and points to the closure of 64 acute care patient rooms as an example.

Dr. Nawal Sharma, an internal medicine specialist, says half of the rooms designed for acute care are being used for offices, while the other rooms are being used for storage and programming.

Acute care was removed from City Hospital in 2008 and the emergency department now operates only between 9 a.m. and 8:30 p.m.

But Sharma says that's created more problems because emergency room patients at City Hospital who need acute care have to be "shuffled" to one of two other hospitals in Saskatoon.

"Emergencies get crowded at these two sites very heavily and very frequently we have a situation what they call bed crisis," said Sharma.

"Patients could be from 30 to 50 patients maybe waiting in the emergency room for beds, when there are no empty beds on the floors. So then there becomes increasing pressure on physicians to make discharges as soon as possible and that is at least one of the factors which has resulted in causing re-admission to the hospital."

Sharma has worked in Saskatoon for nearly 30 years, including 18 years as chief of medicine at City Hospital.

He says he can't understand why the newer facility "with a lot of potential" at City Hospital isn't being used, while the older Royal University Hospital needs a lot of work.

The doctor also says he's concerned about the ability to handle outbreaks or major incidents because of increased demands on hospitals.

"Our capacity to handle those kinds of things is extremely difficult and almost impossible because we are struggling on a day-to-day basis trying to meet the demand and overflowing and there are so frequently these over capacity alerts," said Sharma.

The issue was raised Thursday in the legislature by Opposition NDP Leader Cam Broten, who argued that Royal University Hospital and St. Paul's Hospital are "bursting at the seams."

Randy Weekes, minister responsible for Rural and Remote Health, told the legislature that City Hospital will continue to have an emergency room and handle day surgeries.

"As in most major cities in Canada with multiple hospital sites, there are defined rules and service expectations for each hospital," he said.

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