Staffing shortages plague health regions, costing millions of dollars

Watch above: The overtime nurses in the Saskatoon Health Region are putting in is adding up. Meaghan Craig finds out how the $1-million price tag compares to other regions.

SASKATOON – Staffing shortages continue to take their toll on the health care system. According to the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions, every year more than 19.4 million hours of overtime, both paid and unpaid, is worked by nurses in the public sector.

The cost an estimated to be almost $872 million in 2014, down from approximately $979 million in 2012. Many parts of the country still plagued by a lack of nurses.

“Registered nurses are caring for far too many patients at one time and it’s really leading to nurse stress, nurse anxiety, burn-out and also very much to a real negative impact on patient safety,” said Tracy Zambory, president of the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses (SUN).

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READ MORE: One in four registered nurses in Sask. have considered quitting

Staffing shortages that often results in long hours and overtime costs being paid out, leaving health regions in the red.

At the request of Global News, data was provided by both the Saskatoon and Regina Qu’appelle health regions from 2012 and 2014.

Saskatoon Health Region*2012-132014-15
SUN Paid FTEs2,330.882,389.29
Worked Overtime Hours116,947.09143,429.89
Premium dollars paid$4,347,551.41$5,490,079.39


In the course of two years, the Saskatoon Health Region (SHR) hired 59 more full-time equivalent SUN positions. Its overtime increased over 26.4 thousand hours at a cost of more than $1.1 million, bringing the total overtime cost to close to $5.5 million.

Regina Qu’Appelle Health Region2012-132014-15
SUN Paid FTEs2,048.022,045.40
Worked Overtime Hours163,041.23148,132.49
Premium dollars paid$7,042,761.22$6,539,701.97


In the Regina Qu’Appelle Health Region, three positions were cut and overtime declined by by 14,908.74 hours at a savings of $503,059.25 but it still managed to spend more than SHR at more than $6.5 million.

“In Regina, they’re doing more with less and in Saskatoon they’re just trying to cover the stress in the system with overtime,” said Zambory.

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As a result of an overcapacity crisis, SHR launched a 14-day challenge in February, an improvement initiative aimed at curbing all hallway health care and reducing the amount of time it takes to admit a patient to a unit.

READ MORE: Saskatoon Health Region shutting down ‘inappropriate spaces’

The work didn’t stop there, a 90-day hoshins or breakthrough approach to achieve systematic change was taken on by SHR as it continues to correct staffing shortages with a predictive model and a continued focus on patient flow.

“When we understand our demand then we need to say ‘OK how do we match our staffing capacity to that demand.’ Where we’ve got into trouble with overtime is when we’ve had big surges or higher demand of patients and we haven’t changed how we staff on a regular unit or a regular schedule,” said Petrina McGarth, vice-president of people, practice and quality with the Saskatoon Health Region.

The ultimate goal? Eliminate all overtime.

“If we can get to place where we’re predicting our patients demands and we are being proactive then every patient should be cared for a nurse working that’s working on regular time that would be the best for our staff and best for our patients,” said McGarth.

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