Sigerist Commission

One of Premier T.C. Douglas’s priorities, within two days of his election on June 15, 1944, was to contact Dr. Henry Sigerist, professor of the history of medicine at Johns Hopkins University, and author of Socialized Medicine in the Soviet Union to head a health study commission. Sigerist began work on September 6, 1944; completed visits and hearings on September 23; finished the report at five minutes after midnight on October 1; and presented his formal report on October 4. He served without pay.

Sigerist accomplished a great deal during his three-plus weeks in Saskatchewan. He recommended establishment of district health regions for preventive medicine, each centred on a district hospital equipped with an x-ray machine, a medical laboratory, and an ambulance. He advocated rural health centres of eight to ten maternity beds, staffed by a registered nurse and one or more municipal doctors. He proposed that the municipal doctor plans should be maintained and developed. He noted that the public must be educated to seek medical advice at the centre, so that doctors would no longer spend a large part of their time driving around the country. The downside was that Saskatchewan was saddled with too many small, one-doctor hospitals: Sigerist did not foresee the rapidity of technological changes in farming and road transportation that were already on the horizon, nor could he have been expected to predict the advent of “the pill,” with its corresponding drop in birth rates. Sigerist proposed “free hospitalization,” which he estimated would cost $3.60 per person per annum and would require another 1,000 to 1,500 hospital beds in Saskatchewan, including a 500-bed university hospital attached to a new medical college in Saskatoon.

Professor Milton Roemer of the University of California, Los Angeles, correctly described the Sigerist report as “one of the most advanced health services reports of its time.” It provided the blueprint for medical care in Saskatchewan for half a century.

C. Stuart Houston