Thursday, February 16, 2012

Weeklies Newswire: Health services challenging for rural residents

It is difficult for rural residents in Saskatchewan to receive health services.
The Regina General Hospital is one city centre some rural residents must visit. 

Photo by Lisa Goudy
by Lisa Goudy

Ever since Olga Heinrichs was diagnosed with congestive heart failure, she has been coming to Regina from Swift Current for check-ups and tests. But making the trip has its challenges.

“When you live out in the country and the roads are bad and you can’t get through…that can get to be quite a challenge,” said Heinrichs. “If it should happen to be an emergency – that would really be bad.”

In April 2011, Heinrichs was rushed to the Regina General Hospital with signs of heart failure. At one point she was told she was to stay in the hospital for one day for a test, but it turned into a 10-day stay. On top of that, her husband had to leave to pack up their house because they were in the process of downsizing into a small apartment.

“It was something so unexpected and it didn’t work out too well because then (Ron) had to go back,” said Heinrichs. “But luckily for us, it’s not as bad as it is for some people because we have family here so we can always stay with them if somebody needs to.”

The vast distances in the province create challenges for EMS services, said Doug Line, the director in the acute and emergency services branch of the provincial health ministry. The branch is responsible for EMS, cancer agency and provincial quality of care co-ordinators.

“When you have a relatively low population density spread out over a long distance, it becomes much more of a challenge in order to provide emergency services,” said Line. “You’re attempting to have people trained, prepared and ready to respond to a call, but oftentimes it’s not always something that there’s always a close proximity to where they are.”

Line said paramedics have to travel many kilometres to respond to a call, pick up patients and transport them to a medical facility. Particularly in northern Saskatchewan where there are small communities spread out across far distances, it makes it difficult to provide service. He added the ministry’s goal in Saskatchewan is to respond to a rural emergency in less than 30 minutes. That goal is achieved about 83 per cent of the time.
Vast distances in the province make it difficult for rural
residents to receive medical treatment.

 Photo by Lisa Goudy

“Of course you’d like to have a target of 100 per cent, but we think that given the geographical distances that 83 per cent indicates that we have some very good service providers out there who work very hard at making sure that they can respond as quickly as possible,” said Line.

There are 108 ambulance services in Saskatchewan and the majority of calls are done by the Regina and Saskatoon services. Out of those 108 services, 61 have an average of one call per service per day. Of those 61, an average of 10 would do less than one call per week. In Regina and Saskatoon, ambulance services each receive 65 calls per day.

“Some of our services out in the rural area don’t get a large volume of ambulance calls. So essentially you’re not always able to have people who are full time ambulance personnel,” said Line. “I have a lot of respect for their dedication because they do a lot of study, a lot of training and they’re working at their regular jobs and a call comes in that ambulance attendants are needed and they go out there and respond.”

Many things have been done in the province to try to overcome these rural challenges. He said 9-1-1 services are available for almost all areas of the province and more paramedics are being trained every year. Three ambulance dispatch centres were put into place with full-time ambulance dispatchers who can provide medical information over the phone in an emergency. If someone was having a heart attack or a baby was being delivered at home, for example, Line said dispatchers could provide information to help with the situation while the ambulance was on its way.

More recently, Line said the Cypress Health Region is running a pilot program in Eastend to develop a “mobile health system.” Paramedics would provide ambulance care and additional health services in the area and supply a full-time job to someone in that field. He said the provincial government is watching the project with great interest.

“(The pilot project is) to sort of see how you would integrate the skills of a paramedic into some of the local services that might be needed in the community related to home care or working in a heath care centre or clinic,” said Line. “It may be an opportunity in the next year or so to try in other locations and see if there’s a way to enhance the level of service in some of the smaller communities.”

“It would be nice if the smaller centres like Swift Current had more specialized services. There virtually aren’t any,” said Heinrichs. “Any time you run into something where you need a specialist, well of course, you have to go into a larger centre like Regina and then the wait lists get to be really long and that’s a problem, especially with some illnesses.”
Photo by Lisa Goudy

Wait times, however, haven’t been a problem in Heinrichs’ experience and she has had to wait at most half a day to get in. Basic and emergency needs, such as filling her prescriptions, have never been an issue, but occasionally she’s had appointments rescheduled or cancelled, which is inconvenient for someone living out of town.

Although Heinrichs can’t complain too much based on her situation, she added the slowest part of the health services is getting the test results. With her heart condition, she has to have a lot of tests done. The results are also supposed to be sent to her doctor in Swift Current, but Heinrichs said “sometimes she gets them and sometimes she doesn’t.”

For instance, she had an MRI done in October and was told she’d get the results by the time she saw her Swift Current doctor in November. As of early February, she still didn’t have the results.

“There’s no reason for that,” said Heinrichs. “That’s not performance, really.”

See the story on the Weeklies Newswire here.

Weeklies newswire: Diefenbaker Bridge weight cap increased

by Lisa Goudy

Bryan Richards feels like it’s been forever since trucks could travel on the Diefenbaker Bridge in Prince Albert.

“It was an aggravation, but after a while you just sort of get used to it,” said the vice-president of Yanke Group of Companies. “There’s no question it’s been a bit of a pain.”

Five and a half months after a section of the bridge was cracked, the Diefenbaker Bridge’s weight limit was increased to 47,000 kilograms at midnight on Feb. 13. Southbound lanes were closed on Aug. 30 and the weight restriction was 15,000 kg. Heavier trucks were forced to reroute.

“We charge by the mile. We pay our guys by the mile. So every additional mile was a cost,” said Richards. “Unfortunately we’ve had a couple of instances where our guys ignored the signs and got significant fines.”

But the increased weight limit will accommodate almost all of Yanke’s trucks and 85 per cent of all trucks across the province.

“(We’re) just happy that it’s been able to move forward,” said Richards.

He said the Yanke Group makes trips to and from Prince Albert “weekly if not daily.” Retail products are shipped to major city stores and other products are transported to northern mills.

Yanke Group is one of many trucking companies that pass through Prince Albert to get to the northern part of the province.

“Many people don’t realize that Prince Albert is the gateway to the North,” said Robert Cotterill, the Prince Albert city manager. “Any ability to assist the trucking industry by raising the weight limit is a positive.”

Cotterill added large amounts of products such as pulp, paper, uranium and cement are transported through the city to northern communities.

He said the bridge failed because of a crack in a support girder.

“The failure mechanism…occurred on one portion of the bridge. It could happen on other connections on the bridge,” said Richards. “There’s about 300 connections that are similar to the one that failed.”

Subsequently, all of those mechanisms need to be replaced at the cost of an estimated $3 million.

He said the project has already cost the provincial government $1 million through the Urban Highway Connector Program that came into effect just before the bridge failed.

The primary weight limit of 63,500 kg is expected to be restored by early March. Final repairs are scheduled to be completed in August.

Read the original post on the Weeklies Newswire here.

Weeklies Newsire: Lack of snow concerns farmers

Some farmers are worried about the lack of snow cover this winter.

Photo by Lisa Goudy
by Lisa Goudy

Even though the lack of snow this winter has saved Lloyd Thiessen some money, the Swift Current farmer is hoping for precipitation.

“We had a fairly wet year this year with the regular rains, but going forward, we’re looking a little dry. We can go from hot to cold real quick,” said Thiessen. “If we don’t get any more winter, I’m fine with that, just as long as we get two inches of rain before I start seeding in spring.”

Snow prevents the soil from becoming cracked because it acts as an insulator against the constant freezing and thawing process in winter. Thiessen only needs a few inches of snow to make his land less barren for seeding.

“It’s always nice to have a cover (of snow) on the land. There’s no wind erosion,” said Thiessen. “If it freezes and thaws, freezes and thaws, the soil gets a fractured nature to it and it’s kind of temperamental, the top inch and a half.”

Thiessen’s 5,000 acre family farm land could be planted with any type of crop, such as durum wheat, spring wheat, lentils, barley, flax or canola, depending on the markets and the moisture levels.

“A good inch of rain is worth just as much as probably eight inches of snow because it’s right there and readily available,” said Thiessen. “Snow can melt and run off. You need a lot of snow to make an inch of moisture.”

But on the other hand, Thiessen’s food costs for his 50 cows are down because there is no snow and the cattle can graze on the land. With the exception of one particularly cold week near the end of January, the cattle have been outside grazing.

“In cold weather, they eat more to keep warm. So when the weather’s warm, they go out and browse more and they’re not hanging around the feeders as much,” said Thiessen. “When it warms up to like zero or above zero, the cattle go out and meander.”

Compared to last year’s heavy snowfalls and brutal temperatures, Thiessen said the “feed bill” is a lot lower this year. He estimated feed prices are about half of what they would normally be.

At the end of the day, the weather is the biggest factor for deciding what gets done on the farm.

Grass peeks through on the field by Highway 6 near the end of January.
Some Saskatchewan farmers are concerned about the lack of moisture.

Photo by Lisa Goudy
 “We always look west to the sky before we figure out what we’re going to do for the day. If we have a window of opportunity, we go at her,” said Thiessen.

Thiessen may be hoping for a few inches of snow, but in the southeastern part of the province, snow is the last thing on farmers’ minds. While Thiessen was able to seed 99 per cent of his crops last spring, Estevan farmer Terry Mantei wasn’t able to seed any.

“For us down here in the southeast, we had so much water and rain in the spring, it’s actually been a pleasant, uplifting (winter) so far,” said Mantei. “The hay could have taken some winter kill too, but it looks good. It’s been good for the cattlemen and so far we can’t call it off because we had so much moisture last year.”

Mantei, who has 5,000 acres of grains such as wheat, canola and durum and 1,000 acres of hay, said last year the roads were so muddy and washed out that it was almost impossible to get anywhere from his farm for most of the summer. He is hoping it won’t happen two years in a row.

“If we get a good start without the moisture, all we need is the rain. We don’t really need snow right now for our farmland,” continued Mantei. “I’m thinking we still could get a blast of snow yet very easily. That’s what happened last year and it caught us in the spring.”

But on the contrary, too much rain could cause another flood in the area.

“A timely rain will do us as well as snow now. Our rivers are full and all our dugouts and slews down here in the southeast are full,” said Mantei. “It won’t take too much rain for us to be able to pull off a good crop.”

Mantei said the hay and cattle prices are up because of the milder winter. Particularly in the southern parts of the United States, there is a hay shortage because of droughts.

“Some of the people I sold the hay to, their cattle are right out in the fields yet and just going for water, that’s all, not even near the yards,” said Mantei. “That’s a welcome break for them too financially and a chance for them to catch up because last year our cattlemen lost a fair amount of cattle from the storms in the spring.”

Grant McLean, spokesperson for Saskatchewan Agriculture, said the lack of snow cover isn’t a concern for producers in southeastern and eastern Saskatchewan, excluding those that planted winter wheat. He said in western Saskatchewan, conditions were dry going into the winter season and those farmers are concerned about whether there will be moisture.

Photo by Lisa Goudy
“With the mild conditions and the minimal snow cover...we may see some damage to the winter wheat crops. That may alter the planting plans of many producers who thought they would plant some of their acres of winter wheat to reduce the planting pressure that they might experience in the spring of 2012,” said McLean.

He added the livestock producers around the province are content with the temperatures and lack of snow because of the decrease in the feeding requirements.

He said particularly farmers in west central Saskatchewan are thinking about how much fertilizer to budget for and what types of crops they might plant if there is no more precipitation.

Based on the weather so far, McLean said it’s hard to be pessimistic about spring farming conditions.

“We do have a very narrow window for seeding crops. That’s always a challenge for most farmers,” he said. “Every enterprise and every business is in a unique situation. It takes significant skills and abilities of producers to...maximize the resources they have at hand.”

See the post on the School of Journalism weeklies newswire here.


Additional comments

Lloyd Thiessen: “In cold weather, they eat more to keep warm. So when the weather’s warm, they go out and browse more and they’re not hanging around the feeders as much. They like going out if there’s open hills and most of the native grass is still exposed so if it wasn’t grazed off during the year, that native grass has got a lot of nutrients in it that it stores up all summer so it’s actually very good for fall grazing and they’ve been able to be out there.”

“It’s always nice to have a cover (of snow) on the land. There’s no wind erosion,” said Thiessen. “If it freezes and thaws, freezes and thaws the soil gets a fractured nature to it and it’s kind of temperamental, the top inch and a half.”

Photo by Lisa Goudy

If the moisture level is fairly good at the top at the beginning of April, he will plant a shallow seeded crop like flax. If the moisture permeates the first two inches of land, he’s more likely to wait until there is a top lair of rain to plant flax.
“Farming has always been a challenging industry and a challenging business to match both the economics and the agronomics and dealing with many uncertainties like weather as well as financial challenges and every enterprise and every business is in a unique situation. It takes significant skills and abilities of producers to optimize or in many cases try to maximize the resources they have at hand to make their business move forward in a manner that they can maximize the productivity of their business.”

He estimated 80 per cent of his crops have to be seeded in the first inch or inch and a half.

Terry Mantei: “It won’t take too much rain for us to be able to pull off a good crop. It’s not depending on the snow. We’re just depending on the rain here,” said Mantei.

Grant McLean: