FACT CHECK: Minister's Power to Address Understaffing

FACT CHECK

 

On December 7, 2019, an SEIU-West member with decades of experience as a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) sent a letter to Health Minister Jim Reiter. She shared her concerns as a front-line worker about the growing problem of understaffing in Saskatchewan’s health care system.      

More than 10 weeks later, the Minister has finally replied...with a series of talking points. Let’s see if they pass the fact test.    

TALKING POINT: “Neither the Government nor the Ministry of Health are in a position to be involved in human resource matters, including staffing at facilities in the Saskatchewan Health Authority”   

FACT: The Government’s own law that created the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) gives the Health Minister the responsibility, and the power, to fix understaffing.

  • He is responsible for the “strategic direction of the health care system” and can “do any things that the minister considers advisable for that purpose” including “conduct human resources planning” and “administer the allocation of available resources”.
  • He has the power to order the SHA to “take any action” that he deems necessary regarding “the operations of health services”.
  • He has the power to do anything that he “considers appropriate to promote and ensure the provision of health services” by the SHA.

In short, Minister Reiter is definitely “in a position to be involved” in addressing understaffing in healthcare. His refusal to use his powers to address understaffing is a betrayal of his responsibilities.

TALKING POINT: “All special-care homes providing long-term care” are required by regulations “to follow care standards. These standards are comprehensive and require the appropriate staffing mix to best meet residents’ needs.”    

FACT: “Appropriate staffing mix” does not guarantee that there will be an appropriate number of care staff to provide safe care. The Housing and Special Care Homes Regulations used to say that homes providing Level 3 care or higher had to have enough staff to provide at least 2 hours of direct care per patient per day. All other homes had to have enough staff for at least 20 minutes of care per resident per day.

In 2011, the Minister cancelled these regulations and replaced them with “guidelines”: the Program Guidelines for Special Care Homes. The guidelines do not require minimum staffing levels, except that there must be at least one RN on staff. Care “may be provided with a staff mix” of registered nurses (RNs), LPNs, and Continuing Care Assistants (CCAs).

In other words, “staffing mix” refers to the ratio of types of care staff, not the total number of front-line care staff. Having 2 CCAs and 1 RN working a shift in a nursing home may be an appropriate skill mix, but still might not be enough total care staff to provide appropriate, safe care.

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