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Saskatchewan nurses union says short-term actions needed to address health care issues

A nurse tends to a patient in the Intensive Care Unit, on Tuesday, January 25, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young. CHY

The government of Saskatchewan is working to recruit nurses from the Philippines to help address the nurse shortage seen across the province, but the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses (SUN) raised some concerns about the announcement.

SUN president Tracy Zambory said this move will help in the long term, but noted there are some actions that need to be taken now.

Read more: Quebec to hire more nurses to address overcrowding in north after death of 10 infants

“There are still months yet before these individuals will be work-ready,” Zambory said.

“While we need to recruit people, the biggest thing that we need to do in this province is actually retain people.”

Minister of Health Paul Merriman said they are seeing similar challenges in health that are seen in other provinces, noting that they’ve brought in nurses from the Philippines successfully back in 2012 and 2013.

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“They integrated very easily into our system, or some of our remote communities,” Merriman said.

He added that bonuses of up to $50,000 over three years are being offered to entice people to fill some of those positions.

Merriman anticipates people to be on the ground in Saskatchewan before the end of the year while they work in a bridging program to help them transition.

Zambory said it’s the mid- to late-career nurses who have kept the health-care system in the province running, and there isn’t a plan in place to keep them.

She suggested the implementation of a nursing taskforce, and said they’ve been pushing Minister Paul Merriman, the Sask Party, and Premier Scott Moe to allow them to create a table for nurse unions, regulators, educators, and other stakeholders to come together and be able to speak with nurses on the frontlines.

“We have yet to actually do that, to actually have conversations with people to say what is it that we can do in your workplace to make it so you would stay.”

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She said the taskforce could be up and running in two weeks, and would be having conversations with people in a short period of time.

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“People are leaving, they are at their wits end. We talk about them being at the end of their rope, there isn’t even any rope left.”

She said parts of the system have collapsed, and many workers are just working in the rubble to move forward.

“People are waiting many, many hours in the emergency room because they can’t get care. There’s not enough staff, there’s not enough physical space, and there’s no relief for that in sight.”

Zambory said the workplace has become unmanageable, and this is why nurses are leaving.

She noted that these issues were starting to show pre-pandemic, but nothing was done to address it.

Zambory said the collaboration that SUN and the government used to have was similar to the taskforce she’s calling for, and was something that allowed them to address issues on a granular level.

“It is every single sector of healthcare that is affected by this, and it isn’t about people taking vacations or people retiring. It’s about a system that’s in free fall, and we’re doing very little to stop that.”

She said there are retirees willing to come back, and the new nurses could receive the mentorship they need.

Read more: Saskatchewan Health Authority seeks to fill 175 open full-time positions across the province

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“I’ve heard from so many one-year-in registered nurses who have been thrown into the shark tank and told ‘cope’, and they can’t, because while they have the knowledge, because they are now a degree prepared professional, they don’t have the experience.”

Zambory said we may run into similar issues trying to pull nurses from the Philippines and getting them to work in chronically understaffed positions.

“They’re bringing these people into the hard-to-recruit places. Well, these places are hard to recruit for a reason.”

“What have we done to be able to deal with that? What have we done to make sure that those workplaces are ready, and capable, and have the mentorship required to be able to manage bringing in someone who not only is a brand new nurse, but is brand new to the country, brand new to the system?” Zambory said.

She said hurdles like lack of leadership, short staffing and housing haven’t been addressed by the Ministry of Health.

“We’ve asked them, and we haven’t got any of those answers.”

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