Average Sask. health region employee took more than 10 sick days last year

Saskatchewan's auditor says the government needs to do more to cut down on sick leave by employees.

Provincial auditor says excessive sick days drive up cost of health care

Saskatchewan auditor Judy Ferguson says many sick days for health sector workers are the result of workplace injuries. (Trent Peppler/CBC)

Saskatchewan's auditor says the government needs to do more to reduce the sick leave taken by health care workers.

Judy Ferguson released her latest report on Tuesday morning.

In it, she highlights absenteeism in the Heartland Regional Health Authority, in the west-central part of the province, where the average full-time worker took 10.5 sick days per year.

That is slightly higher than the average in the province's 12 health regions for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2017.

A lot of the sick leave is due to workplace injuries.

The most dangerous occupations when it comes to workplace injuries is the category that includes nurse aides, orderlies and patient service associates.

Employees in Heartland health region take about 10.5 days of sick leave per full-time equivalent each year, slightly higher than the average in regional health authorities. (Saskatchewan auditor)

Ferguson said in Heartland, sick days were tracked but not analyzed. 

"They do have a lot of staff who have back injuries," she said. "They do provide back injury and training programs in that area, but they hadn't done the linkage.

"Did it make a difference? Did it actually — when a person got that program — were they at less risk of having a back injury, did they really know how to lift properly?"

Judy Ferguson speaks to reporters about her latest report, released Tuesday morning. (Trent Peppler/CBC)

Registered nurses were the fifth highest occupation for injuries in Saskatchewan in 2016, according to the Workers' Compensation Board. 

Interim Opposition leader Nicole Sarauer said the problem is due in part to under-staffing.

"We need to ensure that the money is flowing to frontline workers," she said.

"When they're not being properly resourced, where they're not being properly supported — that's when you see injuries occurring.

Sarauer noted that both sick leave and overtime are costing the system money.

The auditor says the move to a single health authority in Saskatchewan may help to deal with the issue.

Beth Vachon, a vice-president with the new, single health authority in Saskatchewan, believes it will.

"I think there's some tremendous opportunities now with a single health authority," she said. 

"The ability to really do a broad look at what are the causes of absenteeism within the workplace, how do we start to really look at strategies that will help address that, how do we ensure that our managers have the right supports around them."