07/16/2013 01:54 EDT | Updated 09/15/2013 05:12 EDT

Union raises concerns about therapist shortage, service cuts at Regina hospitals

REGINA - A shortage of physical and occupational therapists has a Saskatchewan health region saying it can't continue to meet its service standards.

An internal memo from the Regina Qu'Appelle Health Region says priority will be given to patients with the most urgent care needs and those who are about to be discharged from hospital. The memo was given to media by the union representing therapists.

The Health Sciences Association of Saskatchewan is questioning the impact on other patients.

"Patients expect that when they're in the hospital that they should be able to get that physio therapy or the occupational therapy while they're there," association president Karen Wasylenko said Tuesday.

"And now it's, 'Well, we have to prioritize.' What does that mean? What is an adequate level of service?

"Does that mean that somebody from the rural (area) who's in the hospital in Regina can't get the therapy that they need in the hospital and get shipped out to the rural area? And then that means they're waiting another six months for the therapy that they need?"

The memo notes that standard practice is to have therapists assigned to particular units or areas.

It says that because of the shortage a decision has been made to pool all referrals and prioritize them for a hospital as a whole.

Wasylenko says the association is also concerned that the public wasn't told about the therapist shortage. She says the memo is from the Pasqua Hospital, but information indicates similar restrictions are already in place at Regina General Hospital.

When asked if it means some patients won't get therapy, Regina Qu'Appelle Health Region spokesman Bill Carney said: "That's right, for the short term."

Carney suggested patients could use a private therapy clinic, but acknowledged they would have to pay for that service.

"We are facing a temporary shortage and had to adapt our services accordingly," he said.

"The good news, though, is that we've been recruiting actively and we can announce that 12 new physios and (occupational therapists) are coming to the region in the next three to four months and that will get our services back to normal and we'll be fully staffed."