Quebec calls on bureaucrats to work in hospitals amid staffing shortage

Bureaucrats are being asked to opt-in to work in a hospital setting as service aides, taking over non-medical tasks normally performed by nurses.

Workers would perform non-medical tasks, such as offering meals and administrative work

An attendant cleans equipment at Jean-Talon Hospital in Montreal. The Quebec government is asking workers to opt-in to work in a hospital setting as service aides. (CBC / Radio-Canada)

Quebec Premier François Legault is asking government employees to volunteer to work in hospitals, as staffing shortages continue to hamper the province's health-care system.

Bureaucrats are being asked to opt-in to work in a hospital setting as service aides, taking over non-medical tasks normally performed by nurses. That could include disinfecting surfaces and equipment, doing administrative tasks, and providing meals to patients.

"There is a storm to weather and the government is launching a call for solidarity," wrote Éric Ducharme, the secretary of Quebec's Treasury Board, in an email obtained by Radio-Canada.

The letter, which was sent to all provincial employees, said the health ministry needs to "rapidly respond to significant labour shortages across its territory," and is asking for volunteers.

"In this period of significant increase in hospitalizations due to the pandemic, our colleagues are therefore calling on us to go, for a few weeks, to lend a hand," it read.

The office of Sonia LeBel, the president of Quebec's Treasury Board, confirmed they are hoping 2,165 people will sign up.

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Speaking on Radio-Canada's Tout le monde en parle program Sunday night, Legault said a plan exists to train people for those administrative roles, but is asking government employees to work until they are filled.

"To take charge of nurses' administrative responsibilities, so they can focus on patients," he said.

Those who sign up will still be allowed to return to their jobs. They will be paid their usual salary, and may also be eligible to premium pay incentives, meant to encourage workers to stay in the public health-care network.

Volunteers are being asked to signal their interest to their managers by the end of the day Monday. 

Employees assigned based on expertise

The union that represents public and para-public service workers in the province, known by its French acronym, the SFPQ, wants the government to focus the effort on seasonal employees, such as those who work in the province's national parks, who are currently without work.

SFPQ president Christian Daigle said 30 to 35 per cent of the union's members are essential and can't give up their jobs.

"We need some people now in the public services; we don't have them," Daigle said. "We don't have enough people right now to work and to respond to all the demands of the people of Quebec."

But Réjean Leclerc, the president of FSSS-CSN, a union representing 130,000 health-care workers in the province, said the move could make a big difference.

"It could totally change the situation, between keeping a department open or closed," Leclerc said. "We just have to make sure their roles are complementing and not supplementing [nurses]."

A Health Ministry spokesperson, Marie-Hélène Émond, told CBC Monday that 500 "public service resources" were deployed to the health-care network in the spring and summer of 2021.

"The assignments offered to public service employees who come to lend a hand vary. For example, some were involved in vaccination or screening activities (clinical or administrative) and others in activities related to human resources management (e.g. processing job applications)," Émond said in an email.

She said the roles employees are assigned to varies depending on their expertise, and the length of their assignment depends on "the needs of the establishments," but that they are all temporary.

With files from Rowan Kennedy, Chloe Ranaldi and Thomas Gerbet