By Sherri Solomko
Biggar MLA Randy Weekes was appointed Saskatchewan’s Minister responsible for Rural and Remote Health in May, 2012. Last month, he was in Unity touring the health centre and meeting with staff and long term care residents.
Weekes’s main goal is to get out and visit as many rural and northern communities as possible, and to listen and learn from Saskatchewan people about their health-care concerns. He wants to get on the ground and hear, not just concerns but also some great ideas for solutions from a local perspective.
Asking Weekes about the biggest challenge in providing health care to rural residents, he responded, “Consistent and predictable access to physician services in smaller communities can be difficult. It is this government’s priority to make recruiting and retaining physicians a top priority.”
Regarding concerns on shortages of EMTs and long term care aides in Unity, Weekes said, “We know that shortages of health care workers remains an on-going challenge – especially in smaller centres. And once we’ve recruited health care workers, retaining them in a smaller community is sometimes even more difficult. We are always looking at ways to increase the complement of all health care providers – whether that’s through incentives, or more training opportunities. We’ll continue to work with the Heartland Health Region officials to ensure we have appropriate numbers of workers to meet the health care needs of patients.”
He added, “We’re often seeing a trend in the positives … such as the use of nurse practitioners in communities. Nurse practitioners have been well received in many communities that are fortunate to have one.”
He raised another issue, saying, “One other common theme is that various players in the health care system need to do a better job of communication with one another, which means the government and our health care regions have to work harder to communicate effectively with both patients and health care providers. We want to do a better job of consulting and engaging the community as a partner in the health care system …. Touring the province has been a great tool to increase outreach and communication with various communities.”
Weekes makes suggestions and presents ideas to Health Minister Dustin Duncan, based on the feedback, observations and advice he receives during visits to different communities. He said, “I … share the insights I learn on the tours with the Premier and my cabinet colleagues … I always want to ensure that the rural perspective – or rural lens – is considered when our government makes major policy or budget decisions on health care.”
Major concerns or specific requests, for example a new hospital, “are considered as part of the larger budget process.”
Weekes was “very impressed” with Unity long term care and the health centre, as well as the facilities in Wilkie. He concluded by saying, “The feedback from all avenues was very much appreciated and I would like to thank everyone at the facilities for their commitment and dedication to providing health care services in this province.”
Minister Weekes can be contacted by at firstname.lastname@example.org, (306) 798-9014 or Room 208, Legislative Building, 2405 Legislative Drive, Regina, S4S 0B3. More information about him and his portfolio is at www.gov.sk.ca/health.