CUPE says Sask. gov't spent at least $730K on private health care staffing in northwest region
Sask. Health Authority has 225 contracted health care staff deployed across the province
Saskatchewan's branch of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) said the province has spent at least $730,000 on private health care staffing in the northwest region, which includes North Battleford and Meadow Lake.
CUPE said it got the information after filing a transparency grievance with the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA).
The money was spent specifically on licensed practical nurses. The contract workers in the Prairie North region are provided by health care staffing solution company Gratitude Health.
In an emailed statement to CBC News, the Government of Saskatchewan said the SHA has 225 contracted health care staff deployed across the province.
Bashir Jalloh, President of CUPE 5430, said this is not the right approach to dealing with Saskatchewan's health care staffing crisis. He called it a "temporary Band-Aid solution."
"I think they had a choice. This is a pattern, and this is the goal in my opinion … they are trying to privatize as much as they can," Jalloh said.
"The problem here is privatization costs more money. It's costing the health-care system a lot more money. And you are taking the trained professionals from the public system. You are draining the public system into these private facilities, and those for-profit facilities do not take on complex cases."
- Retired nurse with heart attack symptoms says she waited 1 hour for ambulance, another hour to get into ER
Jalloh said that the hiring of out-of-province, private staff is worsening morale among SHA nurses, who are being paid less than private contract workers doing the same job.
He said the top of the Continuing Care Assistant (CCA) wage scale is $24.84 an hour in Saskatchewan. Meanwhile, a job posting for a travel CCA posted by Gratitude Canada offers a wage scale of $28-$32 per hour, plus travel, accommodations and a meal allowance.
Jalloh said he's heard from Saskatchewan nurses who say they may become private contract workers so that they can make more money. This would cost the Saskatchewan health-care system greatly, he said.
He said using workers from private companies is very common now.
"We thought that this was an isolated situation, but it started way back sometime last year in the summer. We saw that there were some contract workers in the Estevan area, and contract nurses in the Canora area and Kamsack area and the Yorkton area."
But CUPE only just found out about the extent of the use of contract workers.
WATCH| CUPE says money needs to go to public health care workers and not private contractors:
Everett Hindley, Saskatchewan's minister of rural and remote health, said multiple provinces with health-care shortages are using private "travelling" nurses. He conceded the system is not ideal.
"Ultimately, we want to make sure that we have enough permanently funded full-time staff and nurses in our facilities across Saskatchewan. And we're starting to do that by making enhancements as part of our action plan that we launched back in in September."
- Sask. Opposition calls on province to end private-pay MRIs after Ottawa claws back $750k in health funding
In its emailed statement to the CBC, the province said the SHA primarily utilizes contract staffing to help minimize service disruptions while recruitment is underway. This includes hard-to recruit positions in rural and remote locations.
Out of the 225 contracted staff, 68 are in Saskatoon and Regina, and 157 are across northern and rural locations, according to the province.
The province trumpeted its four-point plan to recruit, train, incentivize and retain over 1,000 more health-care workers in Saskatchewan over the next few years.
"As vacancies are filled across the province, the SHA will phase out our reliance on contract staff," said the province.
Jalloh said the government is not listening enough to solutions put forward by CUPE. He said the government should come up with "real solutions" to attract permanent, long-term staff by making health-care education more accessible in rural areas, providing market supplements for hard-to-recruit areas, and moving allowances for current SHA staff willing to relocate.
"Rather than focusing on the solutions we put forward, they believe that the best way they can do this is to rely on contract health-care workers," Jalloh said.
Hindley said the province does take suggestions by organizations like CUPE into consideration.
"We launched an up-to-$50,000 recruitment incentive this past September for a number of health designations in areas across this province, particularly rural and remote areas, where we think that incentive can can help to attract people to to those communities and to those facilities," said Hindley.
CUPE said it hopes to see funding for health care retention efforts in the 2023/2024 budget, which will be released on Wednesday.