It’s been a busy last few days for Biggar MLA Randy Weekes.
The veteran Saskatchewan Party MLA has been hard at work getting up to speed with his new duties as Rural and Remote Health minister in the Brad Wall government.
Weekes’ long-awaited elevation to the cabinet level was part of the sweeping cabinet shuffle and reorganization announced May 25 – a shuffle that saw only two cabinet ministers and the premier himself remain in their portfolios.
Speaking to the Regional Optimist Wednesday, Weekes says he looks forward to the opportunity to serve in cabinet.
“I want to say how honoured I am that the premier has put his faith in me,“ said Weekes.
“What he’s tasked me to do is travel around Saskatchewan listening to what patients and frontline health-care workers and community leaders have to say about the state of health care in rural and remote Saskatchewan.”
He plans to do that over the next weeks and months and then come back to the legislature this fall with some initiatives to address the issues brought up during that tour.
Weekes will be operating under the new Health Minister Dustin Duncan as part of the cabinet reorganization. Duncan takes over from Don McMorris, who moves over to highways and infrastructure.
Weekes credits McMorris for a great job in the health portfolio and notes “we’re not starting from ground zero here, we’re building on the job Minister McMorris has done in the past.”
The rural health-care file has been an active one for the provincial government in recent years.
Weekes has been tasked with addressing challenges with rural hospital closures and partial closures due to lack of physicians.
“A big part of what I’m going to do is find solutions for that,” said Weekes, working with the communities and the health regions.
He also expects to deal with challenges involving making sure emergency services are available after hours.
Weekes also expects to deal with the issue of how to attract and retain health-care professionals including doctors and nurses in smaller communities, as well as how to create more assisted living spaces in rural communities.
Frontline health professionals will be a vital part of the consultation process, but so will meetings with community leaders. Weekes said the community is going to be part of the solution as far as retention and attracting health-care professionals is concerned.
He won’t be in charge of the STARS air ambulance in his new role, but Weekes did point to the new program as important in delivering health care to rural and remote areas.
The appointment of Weekes to the Rural and Remote Health portfolio will give the immediate Northwest area representation at the cabinet table. Weekes’riding is just to the southeast of the Battlefords and includes communities such as Wilkie, Maymont and Radisson.
As far as how his new role will impact his constituency, Weekes expects he might have to be out of his riding a bit more than in the past, but looks forward to carrying out his duties in cabinet over the next few months in preparation for the fall session.
“We hope to have a number of issues in place to recommend to my colleagues in cabinet,” said Weekes.