COVID-19 exacerbating already bad health-care staffing problem in Sask.: union members

Union members and the NDP both say because of recruitment and retention issues, people's holidays are being denied, some are working short-handed and workers are being called in on their days off. 

'The crisis we have started way before COVID,' says CUPE Local 5430 president Bashir Jalloh

A health-care worker sanitizes a partition at a COVID-19 vaccine centre in a July 2021 file photo. The president of CUPE Local 5430 says the Saskatchewan Health Authority does not have a long-term strategy to deal with the province's health-care staffing situation. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

The Saskatchewan NDP says the government's failure to act on an ongoing health-care worker shortage is a problem that's being exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Health-care workers from the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 5430 were at the legislature Thursday to support the Opposition party's calls for reform.

Union members and the NDP both say because of recruitment and retention issues, employees are being denied holidays, some are working short-handed and some workers are being called in on their days off.

There have been cases where the Saskatchewan Health Authority was "very reactive in how to deal with some of these issues, but their reactive measures [are] very short term," said CUPE Local 5430 president Bashir Jalloh.

"It does not have a strategy to deal with the situation in the long term," he said.

"The crisis we have started way before COVID."

Jalloh, who works as a nuclear medicine technician at Regina's Pasqua Hospital, said there have been shortages of cooks, and some patients in Prince Albert are being denied home care. 

"On top of the slowdowns in surgeries, therapies and other services due to COVID-19 redeployment, rural communities are facing temporary closures and shutdowns because of recruitment and retention issues," a CUPE news release said.

The Saskatchewan Party promised to hire 300 additional continuing care assistants during the 2020 election campaign.

Premier Scott Moe told reporters Thursday that his government has already funded a portion of that commitment in this latest budget, in order to reach the goal of up to 300 assistants over the next three years. 

Moe said he thinks his rural and remote health minister should be asking the health authority how it can increase recruitment, especially in remote areas.

The government is aware of these issues and work is being done on them, he said.

Moe thanked the health-care workers who came to the legislature on Thursday and "all health-care workers across the province for the unprecedented effort that they've made over the course of the last 20 months."

NDP health critic Vicki Mowat says the Sask. Party government needs to sit down with health-care professionals and make a comprehensive health staffing strategy.

"It's about the training, it's about recruiting to those areas and it's also about retention once they get there," she said Thursday.

"There's a whole bunch of components here. This is why we've called for a strategy, and we continue to not receive answers on that front."

Jalloh said the province is sorely lacking in full-time, permanent health-care jobs.

He also says workers could be forced out of jobs earlier than planned because of burnout burnout due to staffing shortages and the stress of the pandemic.

"The precarious work situation for health care is not sustainable."


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