Public health ordinances created during the Territorial period of Saskatchewan's history had been administered by the Royal North West Mounted Police. As of April 10, 1906, the ordinances were enforced by the Minister of Agriculture of the new province of Saskatchewan.
In 1909, The Public Health Act created a Bureau of Public Health which was responsible to the Minister of Municipal Affairs.
By 1923, it was felt that the responsibilities of the Bureau had expanded to such a degree that it should become a separate department of the government of Saskatchewan. The Act Respecting the Department of Public Health [The Department of Public Health Act] was assented to on March 22, 1923 transforming the Bureau into the Department of Public Health. The Act stated that "All that part of the administration of the Government of Saskatchewan which relates to public health shall be under the control of the department."
The legislation gave the Department the responsibility for administering The Public Health Act, The Vital Statistics Act and The Venereal Diseases Act. The annual report for 1923 also includes responsibility for the Union Hospital Act and the Act to Regulate Public Aid to Hospitals which fell under the enabling legislation as "such other Acts as may be from time to time assigned to it." John Michael Ulrich was named Minister of Public Health and on April 11, 1923, Maurice MacDonald Seymour was appointed Deputy Minister.
The administration of these acts is reflected in the Divisions within the new department which changed very little from the structure of the old Bureau:
Division of Communicable Disease - responsible for epidemiology and statistics, distribution of vaccines and sera, supervision and treatment of trachoma, supervision of tuberculosis and care of the dead.
Division of Sanitation - responsible for a water and milk laboratory, waterworks and sewerage, public health exhibits, urban and rural sanitation, temporary housing such as lumber camps and hospital organization and construction.
Venereal Disease Division - responsible for tracking, treatment, education and statistics relating to sexually transmitted diseases. This included the operation of dispensaries and clinics.
Laboratory Division - responsible for government laboratories / testing and evaluation including pathology, bacteriology, chemical analysis of food, milk, water and alcoholic beverages. The division also supplied physicians, hospitals and veterinarians with culture media, sterile containers and swabs for taking samples.
Division of Child Welfare - provided education and support for expectant mothers and infants through clinics, maternity grants and home nursing. The Division was also responsible for Hospital Management which included hospital regulation and review.
Vital Statistics Division - responsible for recording, certification, tabulation and searches of records and statistics relating to population, births, marriages, deaths, divorces, communicable disease and infant mortality. Aside from the expected statistics, the division also tracked data such as inter-religious and interracial marriage.
Administration Division - responsible for the administration and operation of the department itself. It occasionally had the responsibility for some activities that fell outside of the purview of other divisions.
Other duties of the Department as prescribed by the enabling legislation were the authority to: institute inquiry and collect facts and statistics relating to all matters of public health; disseminate information in such manner and form as may be found best adapted to promote health and to prevent and suppress disease; secure the observance and execution of all Acts and regulations dealing with matters of public health and vital statistics; issue from time to time such reports, statistics, circulars and other publications as may be deemed advisable; and perform such other duties as may be assigned to it from time to time by law or by the Lieutenant-Governor-in-Council.
The annual budget for the fiscal year ending April 30, 1924 was $540,399.42 of which over $300,000 was aid to hospitals.
There were few major changes in the structure of the Department for the next 20 years. School Hygiene Branch was transferred from the Department of Education to Public Health in 1928 and was merged with Child Welfare to form the Division of Public Health Nursing. Hospital Management was split off as its own division. In 1930, responsibility for mental institutions was transferred from Public Works to Public Health and the Administration Division of Public Health administered The Mental Defectives Act.
By 1941, the department administered a dozen provincial acts: The Public Health Act; The Hospitals Act; The Union Hospital Act; The Tuberculosis Sanatoria and Hospitals Act; The Venereal Diseases Act; The Vital Statistics Act; The Marriage Act; The Mental Hygiene Act; The Anatomy Act; The Municipal Medical and Hospital Services Act; The Mutual Medical and Hospital Benefit Associations Act; The Saskatchewan Cancer Commission Act.
Major changes occurred in 1944 with the election of the Canadian Commonwealth Federation (CCF) government, led by Thomas Clement (Tommy) Douglas. Health care became the single most important issue for the CCF as evidenced by the fact that Douglas took on the portfolio for the Department as well as being Premier of Saskatchewan. One of the first undertakings of the CCF was to appoint a commission in September of 1944 to review the state of health care in Saskatchewan and to make recommendations. The Health Services Survey Commission (HSSC) was headed by Dr. Henry E. Sigerist of Johns Hopkins Medical School. Following the commission's report, the Health Services Planning Commission (HSPC) was created on November 14, 1944 to continue to provide advisory services but also to step outside the existing conservative bureaucracy in implementing the recommendations of the Sigerist Commission.
For the next 5 years, the lines between the Department and the HSPC blur. Bureaucrats of the time are quoted as saying that the activities of both crossed back and forth. Even so, the basic divisional structure of the Department remained very similar. Some new initiatives and divisions were created during this period. Industrial Hygiene undertook the safety of workers. Many of these new initiatives had a large educational and preventative component. Dental Health took an active role in education re: dental hygiene and actual treatment. Divisions for Physical Fitness, Nutrition, and Health Education were also added to the departmental organizational charts.
North America's first civilian air ambulance service was created during this period and fell under the Department of Public Health organizational charts but it was not given division status.
On April 1, 1950, the administrative functions of the health department and the HSPC were combined in a reorganized Department of Public Health. The HSPC continued to exist but was reduced to an advisory role. The various divisions were reorganized under six branches with branch heads reporting to the Assistant Deputy Minister who then reported to the Deputy Minister.
The Branches consisted of: Administrative Services Branch; Research Statistics Branch; Psychiatric Services Branch; Medical and Hospital Services Branch; Regional Health Services Branch; Preventive Services Branch.
The Occupational Health Division and Health Education Division reported directly to the Assistant Deputy Minister outside of any branch structure. The Occupational Health Branch was established in 1957. The Medical Care Insurance Plan was implemented on July 1, 1962 following passage of The Saskatchewan Medical Care Insurance Act, in 1961. In 1966, the Air Ambulance Service Staff, Equipment and Aircraft were transferred to the Central Vehicles Agency under the Department of Public Works. The Department of Public Health was charged on a per mile basis for all Air Ambulance flights.
On July 1, 1974, the Dept. of Public Health became the Department of Health. Walter Edmund Smishek served as Minister for the Department both before and after the name change. This nomenclature remains in effect as of June 2005. The annual report covering the period April 1, 1973 to March 31, 1974 referred to the Department of Health, reflecting the name current during the preparation of the report rather than the title used during the period being reported on. Total expenditures for the fiscal year 1973-1974 (the last full year as Department of Public Health) totaled $194,233,131.22, a substantial increase over the half million budgeted for the first year of operation.