This week we are celebrating Scheduler's Week!

We caught up with a scheduler that has a wealth of experience and perspective of how the job has changed over the years.

This is Lou-Ellen's story:

I started working in health care in 1985 for Maple Creek Health District. 

I applied to work in health care because there were very few jobs in our little town that offered a decent wage and a pension (there were no benefits back then). Even at that time, farming and ranching did not pay the bills, unless you ran a huge operation. 

My first position was in the kitchen of Cypress Lodge as a Kitchen Aide. A few years later a position opened in activities and I applied because the hours fit better with ranching and raising a family. I fell in love with contact with the elderly! While I was working, I decided to take a few courses that were offered at our community college regarding socialization and the elderly. I kept taking courses until the Director of Care realized I was almost certified as a Continuing Care Assistant (CCA). I was offered a full time position—those were hard to find at the time—and worked for the next 15 years as a CCA.

During this period, Maple Creek Health Region went through a series of amalgamations and became Southwest Health Region. I had a serious injury to my shoulder and while I was working to get back to being a CCA, I started evening courses in Office Administration. Shortly after I returned to the floors, a scheduling position was posted for Home Care. At this time, JJE had not occurred and the position was clearly created for a specific person in mind. However, I had the seniority and the qualifications as I had just received my diploma, so I applied. I had decided I would do this for a month and return to the floors.

When I arrived in the office, the computer was a paper weight (literally!), and all scheduling was done on huge sheets of paper pinned to the walls. We were not only scheduling for Maple Creek but for the entire Southwest Health Region in this manner. I helped create a database for clients so we could manage a little better. It was extremely challenging and busy and crazy, and I absolutely loved it! We then were able to access a new scheduling program called Procura. I studied the manuals and played with the program until I was comfortable. A year later, the person in Swift Current that oversaw the program suddenly quit and I have been the senior scheduler for the Region (which had changed its name to Cypress Health Region by this time) ever since.

I love my work. I love sorting schedules and working to make them more efficient and better for my co-workers and the clients. I have met very few of the employees I schedule for as we are a huge region and my office is in Maple Creek, but I love that we have developed relationships. It was so fun to become Facebook friends and finally put faces to voices. My husband and family are amazed that even now, if I get to another community and start laughing or talking, a strange woman will come up and hug me saying “I know that voice”! I love the relationships I build with clients and their families. I always remind myself that regardless of what else is happening, I love my job and I feel lucky that I do.

Even before COVID-19, my job changed. With the creation of the Saskatchewan Health Authority, the workload in my office increased. I now realize as they amalgamated positions and did not fill vacancies, I am filling two full-time positions in a .75 slot. On top of this, scheduling took over running the payroll program as well as the scheduling program which doubled our workload. We now work at a breakneck speed day in and day out to get everything done and entered. There is rarely time for breaks or to catch your breath. Even before the pandemic, workers were retiring or leaving for less stressful work that had better benefits and pay and there has been no real effort for recruitment. So not only are we working at breakneck speed to enter clients and payroll, but also trying to graft together shifts, change scheduled service times and find staff to work as client load has increased while the number of CCAs doing the work has decreased.

When COVID-19 hit, a decision was made to restructure the management of Home Care. Rather than having one manager with a home care background, every facility manager now manages home care in their area. We hire nurses and case managers just out of grad school with no knowledge of the program, the standards, or rules that we work under. Schedulers spend hours explaining why we do what we do and where to find the documentation to substantiate our actions.

And then, we got a contract with zeros and no significant wage increases. Employees are leaving in droves and still there is no viable recruitment. It has literally been years and years since I have been able to have vacation in a time frame of my choosing. But I still love my job.

What would help this system is decent wages—pay me the same you would pay a plumber working on your house. We have the same amount of education and I have more experience. Give me a decent amount of vacation and staff to cover me when I need to be away. Subsidize child care. Give us premium pensions and health care benefits. Quit pretending that we are replaceable and value what we do.

My heart breaks when I have to call family to notify them that their loved one cannot have services today. People in this province need to know that we have critical staffing shortages and services may be cancelled as a result. I find myself completely overwhelmed more often than not. I used to be able to find solutions for staffing, but we are at such a critical point there is no more magic. My call for help has fallen on deaf ears. 

My work is not my life, but it has had an impact. It has made me more tolerant, it has forced me to have patience and it has made me realize that having a creative mind really is a blessing. I have learned that I have to express myself and stand up for my co-workers. I have learned to document and save the most ridiculous things to protect my co-workers.

I have discouraged my daughters and son from going in to health care. I have encouraged them to grade their employers and if they are not appreciated, find another job. Less pay is better than working for an employer who does not value you. But I still love my job. A gentleman I have never met knows I work every Monday and he calls just to ask about my weekend and to tell me a joke. I love that I get birthday cards from co-workers that I have never met. I love that I know the connections of families in our little communities. I know that the families and the clients appreciate me and that makes the difference.

Lou-Ellen, your job sounds like an impossible puzzle. We can't thank you and all the other dedicated schedulers enough. The love you put into your job is evident and we echo your sentiments on wishing for enough staff to provide the care that people in our province deserve. Thank you for your lifetime career in healthcare supporting your co-workers and making this world a better place!

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