Saskatchewan – Since the Saskatchewan provincial budget was released on Wednesday March 23, SEIU-West members and leadership have been wondering how the budget’s proposed ‘new and independent agency dedicated to recruiting and retaining health care workers’ will work.
“We’ve advocated for a long time with this government to improve staffing levels in health care, so it is good to see there is a commitment to recruitment,” says Barbara Cape, President of SEIU-West. “However, we are cautious about how this is going to be different than previous attempts by the SaskParty government that were abandoned only a few years ago, and whether there will be enough focus on retention.”
In 2010, the government established the Physician Recruitment Agency of Saskatchewan (PRAS)—a.k.a. Saskdocs, and in 2014 expanded Saskdoc’s mandate to recruit other health professionals. In 2018, however, Saskdocs was abandoned by the government and its work was ultimately transitioned into the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA). Now, less than four years later, the government is proposing to create a ‘new’ recruitment agency.
“Who will this ‘new and independent’ agency be accountable to? Whose voices will be heard?” Cape wonders. “We firmly believe that front line care staff must play a central and ongoing part in health workforce planning, including efforts to recruit and retain care staff. They are the experts,” continues Cape. “Our members and other health care providers have borne the burden of years of short staffing and understaffing that predated the pandemic. They are the ones who will be expected to train and integrate new staff. They know why people have left the system and that makes them key to the successful implementation of any recruitment and retention program.”
“We don’t want to see this new agency become another way for the government to have all of the day-to-day control, but none of the accountability, in health care. Currently, the SHA is accountable for the work. The government of Saskatchewan has a not-quite-arm’s-length relationship with the SHA. Why blur the lines of accountability and control further?”
SEIU-West hopes that this recruitment agency takes a broad approach to recruitment and retention, including opening up education spaces for Saskatchewan residents, improving working conditions including a fresh look at staffing requirements, and recruiting from other jurisdictions. The short staffing crisis in healthcare encompasses imaging and laboratory technologists, Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs), Continuing Care Assistants (CCAs), administration support staff, food service and nutrition staff and many who work behind the scenes to support and keep our health system operational.
“A real concern we think the government needs to think about is how to set Saskatchewan apart from the rest of the jurisdictions in Canada that are also facing health human resources issues,” adds Cape. “Why here, why now, why is it better to come here than any other jurisdiction in Canada and ensure we attract the talent and professionals that we need to bolster our public health care system.
Service Employees International Union West (SEIU-West) represents over 13,000 people across Saskatchewan. They include people who work in health care, education, municipalities, community-based organizations, retirement homes and other sectors. They are joined by one colour – purple – and one union – SEIU-West. Visit PurpleWorks.ca to find out more about SEIU-West members.
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