REGINA — Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe says any confusion about the temporary nature of rural emergency room closures during the novel coronavirus pandemic is on him.
The provincial health authority announced Tuesday that at least one of the 12 ERs would be reopening in mid-June. Most of the others are to follow over the next four to six weeks.
The authority said the initial suspension of emergency services and acute-care admissions at the hospitals was to ensure there would be enough capacity if there was a surge of COVID-19 cases.
The decision confused and concerned some residents and local leaders, because the number of infections in the southern half of the province where the facilities are located remains low.
Of Saskatchewan's 634 total cases, 77 are considered active, mainly in the north. No new infections were reported Tuesday.
"I don't think it's that we have not foreseen or in any way thought that this would not be a sensitive decision," Moe said of the closures during the day's briefing.
"This was a very challenging decision."
Some locals have worried about the lack of access to emergency care in their communities, but Moe also acknowledged there has been unease that the temporary closures could become permanent.
"I can see in hindsight that there is at times confusion ... the onus is on me to communicate better that these are not being considered for permanent closures."
Health Minister Jim Reiter says the temporary shuttering of rural emergency services was part of a readiness plan from the health authority, which was released publicly weeks ago.
He noted the plan characterized the closures as temporary, and "mistakenly, I guess, we thought that would be enough."
Despite concerns over how the decision was communicated, Moe stood by the move. He said the closures were necessary to prepare for a potential spread of COVID-19 and to train staff.
Also on Tuesday, the government announced that it plans to present a budget next month, when some MLAs return to the legislature.
The government and Opposition NDP have agreed to meet for a 14-day sitting starting June 15. Finance Minister Donna Harpauer is to table the 2020-21 budget that day.
Ten MLAs from the governing Saskatchewan Party and five from the NDP will be permitted in the assembly to comply with physical distancing made necessary by the COVID-19 health crisis.
Moe previously said the government had no legislative business to attend to other than passing a budget ahead of a provincial election slated for the fall.
The NDP has been pressing the government to present the budget, since it only released spending estimates in March — on the same day the legislature was closed over COVID-19 concerns.
It was reported Tuesday that an eighth person had died from COVID-19 and one more death was under investigation.
The resident was in their 50s and was from the province's far north, which has been dealing with an outbreak of the novel coronavirus.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 26, 2020