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SHA employees may be included in whistleblower protections following ‘hush memo’

A doctor checks a patient with a stethoscope. File/The Canadian Press

UPDATE: On Nov. 25, Health Minister Jim Reiter announced that the province will change regulations around the Public Interest Disclosure Act to include Saskatchewan Health Authority employees. A formal amendment will also be tabled in the spring to modify the whistleblower protection law so it covers all healthcare workers.

The Opposition NDP welcomed the change, following questions around what they called a “hush memo” circulated to physicians by the SHA in September.

The original article continues below…

Following the Saskatchewan NDP’s release of what they called a “hush memo,” the party’s deputy leader, Nicole Sarauer, is calling on the province to include Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) employees under whistleblower protection legislation.

The Public Interest Disclosure Act is meant to protect public employees from reprisal if they bring attention to issues in government institutions.

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“It’s pretty clear that this is needed in the province and it’s pretty clear that employees of the SHA should be protected from any sort of retribution when they’re raising concerns about what’s happening in their places of employment,” Sarauer said.

READ MORE: Note from SHA: ‘If you don’t want to see it in the newspaper’ leave it out of meetings

Health Minister Jim Reiter said his understanding is that healthcare employees are not covered by the act due to the makeup of the old health region system.

“At that time, the health regions were sort of considered autonomous organizations,” Reiter said.

“Now that you have a provincial entity there, we’re going to ask the SHA to do a quick review of that. If it makes sense to do their own legislation or in my mind, unless there’s a compelling reason not to, I don’t know why we wouldn’t consider just adding them to the provincial legislation.”

READ MORE: SHA executive member disputes characterization of ‘hush memo’

The health regions were amalgamated into the SHA in December 2017.

Reiter said he would have to consult with the legal department to see whether adding SHA employees to existing legislation would require a formal amendment or could be accomplished by adding a new regulation.

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Making a change through modifying regulations is typically a much faster process than an amendment.

Sarauer said they shouldn’t have to look into this, they should just make the change.

SHA issues clarifying memo

The SHA meanwhile has issued a new memo. Chief medical officer Dr. Susan Shaw said it is meant to clarify the intent of the “hush memo.”

Shaw spoke to the unnamed author of that memo, and said the intent was to make sure people knew to differentiate personal and official SHA communications, plus a reminder of patient/personnel privacy rules.

Shaw reiterated the intent of the SHA is not to silence physicians from voicing concerns they may have or engaging in advocacy efforts.

“I think the confusion that’s come out is because it may not have been the most gracefully worded memo and so that’s the reminder of make sure when you’re writing, write with clarity and when it is shared, whether internally or externally, there’s not this type of confusion,” Shaw said.

READ MORE: Sask. public interest & disclosure commissioner troubled by lack of complaints

Throughout the week, the NDP said the “hush memo” is indicative of a “culture of fear” that exists among healthcare, and other public sector employees, when it comes to speaking out about problems.

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Sarauer said the SHA’s new clarification memo doesn’t change this.

“It’s strange this minister hasn’t immediately rectified the gap in the whistleblower legislation, and from what we’ve heard, it hasn’t made employees feel more comfortable,” Sarauer said.

“It’s a quick backtracking of a memo we wouldn’t have seen if it didn’t come out in question period.”