‘I am tired’: Leader in Sask. pandemic response leaving health authority

‘I am tired’: Leader in Sask. pandemic response leaving health authority

by Sue Jones
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SHA executive Dr. Kevin Wasko says a number of factors, akin to burnout, have led to his decision to step away from leadership and move out of the province.

Dr Kevin Wasko

Dr. Kevin Wasko (right) on shift with registered nurses in the emergency department in Swift Current, the city where he currently lives, in an undated photo. (Saskhealthauthority.ca)

From battling misinformation to encouraging vaccination, Dr. Kevin Wasko has taken a lead role throughout Saskatchewan’s pandemic response.

Now, the physician executive for Integrated Rural Health with the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) is leaving his senior position to work as an emergency room doctor in a Toronto-area hospital.

Speaking with Morning Edition’s Stefani Langenegger Friday, he said fatigue was a factor in his decision to leave the executive role in June.

“I am tired. I know that my colleagues, who are system leaders across the country — but here in Saskatchewan, definitely — they’re tired too.” he said.  

“I just need to take a step back for a while from that to be able to reset … and get back some of that real joy from work that I want to have.” 

LISTEN | Dr. Kevin Wasko talks about the challenging situation for health-care workers: 

Sask Morning Ed 640

8:48Health care leader and SHA executive Dr. Kevin Wasko explains decision to leave province

Dr. Kevin Wasko has been a leader throughout the health care pandemic and a member of the Saskatchewan Health Authority executive, but says the time has come for him to leave. He explains why he’s now making the move to Ontario to work as an emergency room doctor. 8:48

Wasko, who is currently based in Swift Current, about 245 km west of Regina, said there’s a lot happening behind the scenes that goes unnoticed. Health-care leaders have been busy making plans for an understaffed system, while trying to support colleagues and encourage resilience.

“That’s become really tough as we just get hit with challenge after challenge and leaders in the system have been working long hours and and it’s consumed us for the last two years,” he said. 

Wasko is the latest executive to leave the SHA. In early December, SHA CEO Scott Livingstone resigned suddenly for reasons still unknown. 

‘Disheartening’ disconnect between province, SHA

At various times over the last two years, the government of Saskatchewan did not implement public health recommendations from SHA executives like Wasko.  

Wasko said he understands the role government has in the matter and its right to “balance competing interests.” But said it’s still been difficult, at times, for health-care leaders to accept. 

“It does feel disheartening. You make the best recommendations that you can and you try to predict what could happen,” he said.

“It’s frustrating to see when those scenarios actually play out because a decision was made to go one way or another.” 

In late November, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe publicly stated he regretted not implementing public health measures sooner to slow the spread of the Delta variant. 

Premier Moe says he regrets not bringing in health measures sooner

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said Thursday that he regrets having not brought in COVID-19 health measures such as masking and proof-of-vaccination policies earlier. 1:11

The same issue was addressed by public health nurse Carolyn Brost Strom in the Saskatchewan legislature a few days after Moe’s admission.

She outlined ways the government could improve its handling of the pandemic and how to help burnt-out health-care workers.

“I am begging our government to act when our local public health teams [have] identified they need to act,” Brost Strom said at the time. 

‘Frustration’ with misinformation

Pandemic challenges outside of the workplace are also affecting the province’s health-care system, Wasko said.

“We’re frustrated when we hear people in the community rejecting the science. Or saying that the protections that are in place are tyrannical or, you know, impeding their freedoms and their rights.”  

Wasko said a crucial way for the public to help the workers they once hailed heroes, is to recognize how COVID-19 measures protect the health-care system as it tries to recover from the pandemic strain. 

“That means helping to preserve us, those who are leading in the system and who are providing the care,” he said.

“These are protections that are important to minimize the impact that COVID has so that it doesn’t totally devastate our health-care system and our workforce.”

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