Saskatchewan

ICU nurse paints bleak picture of staffing worries as Saskatchewan readies new surgical plan

Worries about how the province will solve its staffing problem in the face of a new plan to cut down the backlog of thousands of surgeries continue in Saskatchewan. 

Addressing root causes of why so many nurses want to leave will be key: Whitney Walker-Ross

Healthcare workers have been neglected by the provincial government, according to CUPE Local 5430 president Bashir Jalloh. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Worries about how the province will solve its staffing problem in the face of a new plan to cut down the backlog of thousands of surgeries continue in Saskatchewan. 

Health Minister Paul Merriman announced Thursday that the province will attempt to reduce its backlog of about 35,000 surgeries by privatizing certain procedures and paying for them with public funds. It's not known which surgeries will be privatized.

Emphasis will first be put on surgeries awaited by the highest number of patients, Merriman says. 

The province already has nearly 1,500 unfilled positions posted, many of them casual or part-time work. Only about 180 of those are permanent, full-time positions, CUPE Local 5430 president Bashir Jalloh says.

Why would anyone be proud to be working ... for a government that has let us down?- ICU nurse Whitney Walker-Ross

"Our employer, the [Saskatchewan Health Authority], has been using short-term measures to deal with short-staffing," he said in an interview Thursday. "It is not sustainable. ... They need to post permanent, full-time wages, pay workers a better wage, a living wage."

Jalloh says he hopes that unions and employees get to be involved in how this crisis will be solved, instead of the government using a top-down approach to the problem. 

Despair on the ground

Whitney Walker-Ross, a surgical ICU nurse in Regina, says she's not sure the push to increase the capacity for critical care nurses at Saskatchewan Polytechnic will work, especially when burnout and morale issues in healthcare are factored in. 

She is not speaking on behalf of the Saskatchewan Health Authority or the College of Registered Nurses of Saskatchewan.

Addressing root causes of why so many nurses want to leave will be key, she said in a text message to CBC. 

According to a statement from the school, the current capacity in that program is 85, and all seats are full at the moment. 

Walker-Ross painted a bleak picture of life in the system right now.

Morale is so low, she says, that she's not sure why anyone would want to work in the province, because the Saskatchewan government —and Premier Scott Moe in particular — have ignored healthcare workers during the pandemic. 

"Why would anyone be proud to be working in Saskatchewan for a government that has let us down throughout this entire pandemic?" she said Friday in an interview.

Sometimes retention problems can be blamed on things such as bad management, burnout from shift work, lack of mentorship or low pay, Walker-Ross says. But right now, she says, she feels more like the government has mismanaged the situation.

"I know the nurses that are in critical care right now don't want to be in critical care … during this pandemic." she said, "primarily because of Scott Moe's decisions." 

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