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Health minister responds to auditor report on health staffing

Provincial auditor says 2,200 health care professionals needed; Merriman says government will implement all the recommendations.
Health Minister Paul Merriman speaks to reporters about findings from the provincial auditor’s report.

REGINA - Health Minister Paul Merriman said his government will act on all the recommendations in the Provincial Auditor’s report released Tuesday. 

The report of Provincial Auditor Tara Clemett included several recommendations into hard-to-recruit positions at the Saskatchewan Health Authority. That report noted 2,200 staff shortages are expected in hard to recruit positions in the next five years, including 840 continuing care aides, 520 registered nurses and 180 medical lab technicians.

Merriman told reporters the findings did not come as a surprise to him.

“We had identified this a while ago that there were some challenges in Human Resources in our health care system,” said Merriman.

That was why they came out with their four-point plan, he said, on health care recruitment that was announced in early September. The plan was designed to recruit, train, incentivize and retain health care professionals.

Merriman noted that plan was starting to work. He had just returned from a recruiting mission to the Philippines of health care professionals and he said there were 129 offers made to individuals there. 

“These individuals are extremely excited about coming to Saskatchewan,” said Merriman. He also pointed to advanced education placements as well as recruitment of doctors.

Merriman also told reporters that 130 new doctors were coming in, for a net increase of 70 from a year ago.

But the auditor’s report also pointed to the need for the SHA to do more to retain staff. Merriman believed the recruitment of additional health care professionals would help encourage people to stay.

He told reporters the biggest concern heard from workers was “we need more people, and that’s exactly what we’re bringing in is more people.”

As for the amount of health care workers needed, Merriman said “we don’t know how many that are going to retire. There’s lot of people coming back to the workforce from retirement who do have the option of coming back and getting some of that incentive money we have out there in specific positions.”

Having said that, the health minister did pledge to “fill all the positions that we need to fill.”

Merriman also noted Minister of Rural and Remote Health Everett Hindley was meeting with nurses that afternoon to “tell them that ‘you’re hired.’ If there’s an opportunity in Saskatchewan we’re going to hire you. We want you to stay in Saskatchewan especially the people from Saskatchewan. We’re going to try to fill up our health care work force to its full complement.”

In her comments, Opposition Leader Carla Beck said what was in the auditor’s report “won’t come as a surprise to very many people in the province.”

“It is deeply concerning that we are losing 600 more healthcare workers than we are recruiting right now,” said Beck. She also raised concerns about the government’s four-point plan for recruitment.

“The insufficiency of the plan this government keeps holding up as a holy grail to healthcare — I think this confirms what healthcare workers, what communities are telling us. It’s inadequate and it’s not working.”

Beck also took the government to task for not consulting health care workers, and also “the retention piece. Why are so many health care workers leaving? Two-thirds of our health care workers are feeling burnt out. Two out of five considering retirement. That is a huge liability. These are workers who have been sounding the alarm far before the pandemic, for years. This is the result of the government’s inaction and it is on them to sit down and start finding the solutions.”