‘Not far enough’: Saskatchewan health care unions respond to new COVID-19 measures

Alonzo Osche

Saskatchewan health care provider unions are welcoming efforts to ease COVID-19 pressures on emergency rooms and intensive care units, but are also calling for more to be done to relieve burnt-out workers.

“We need to have some breathing room in the system and that’s what a slowdown will give us,” said Saskatchewan Union of Nurses president Tracy Zambory.

“But the public health orders don’t go far enough. We needed to see mandatory masking put back into place. We needed to have more concrete action around vaccine passports. If we don’t do that and institute those public health measures that we had before, there is going to be no relief on the system.”

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As part of a suite of new pandemic measures announced Friday, the provincial government and the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) announced a reduction in non-critical or elective services to expand surge capacity amid climbing COVID-19 cases.

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“Temporary service disruptions will be localized and time-limited, as much as possible, while teams mobilize to support both growing demands for COVID care and maintain critical services for non-COVID patients,” the SHA said in a Friday afternoon statement, adding that those affected will be notified directly.

SHA surge targets include increasing from a baseline of 79 beds to 130 beds to accommodate a projected 80 COVID-19-infected ICU patients while maintaining care for on average 50 non-COVID ICU patients.

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The province and SHA are also currently in discussions with health care provider unions to redistribute health care workers.

The province said in a Friday morning press release that “if the SHA and unions cannot reach an agreement by Monday, Sept. 13, the Government of Saskatchewan is prepared to sign another Provincial Emergency Order to reactivate the previous provisions that enabled emergency labour mobility.”

“It’s a strategy of trying to reduce the workloads and assign them to the work that’s most needed,” said SHA CEO Scott Livingstone.

“But at the end of the day it’s a challenge across this country and across North America, what’s happening to health care workers on the front lines.”

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The province also announced intentions to recruit private contact tracers to further ease pressures on public health care workers as cases surge.

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Saskatchewan Government and General Employees’ Union President Tracey Sauer, though, echoed Zambory’s comments in a supplied statement.

”While I appreciate the provincial government is finally taking some action, we do not believe they’ve gone far enough,” Sauer said.

“We would like to see them implement stronger measures to protect the health and safety of our members and the people of Saskatchewan. This includes devoting significant provincial funding to hire, train, and retain the necessary workers needed to address chronic short-staffing problems in Saskatchewan’s health care system.

“If ever there was a time to act to address the problems related to recruitment and retention, surely this is it.”

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