Hjertaas, Orville K. (1917–98)

Orville K. Hjertaas.
Saskatchewan Archives Board R-A22471

Orville Hjertaas was a leading figure in the development of the health services in Saskatchewan, and is recognized as one of the fathers of Medicare. Born in Wauchope on May 31, 1917, he obtained his qualifications in medicine and surgery at the University of Manitoba (1942) and in Edinburgh. As a member and, briefly, secretary of the Health Services Planning Commission, he helped organize the province’s first two experimental health regions in the Swift Current and Weyburn areas in 1945-46. He then served briefly as the Swift Current Health Region’s first medical health officer before settling permanently in Prince Albert, where he established a successful private practice.

Hjertaas played an instrumental role in the implementation of medicare in Saskatchewan in 1961–62. As one of only two physicians who were willing to accept appointments to the Medical Care Insurance Commission, he served as its vice-chairman. In response to the doctors’ strike, which he refused to join, Hjertaas helped establish the first of the province’s community clinics; under his directorship, the Prince Albert community clinic pioneered group practice arrangements as well as an approach to health care delivery which emphasized prevention. Hjertaas received the Saskatchewan Order of Merit in 1993 and became a Member of the Order of Canada in 1997. He died in Prince Albert on May 23, 1998.

Gordon S. Lawson