This Op-Ed was written by SEIU-West President Barbara Cape and submitted to various papers in Saskatchewan on October 20, 2020. 

Mere days before the last vote is cast in this provincial election, I find myself in the position of making a plea to the general public to really think about the future of your health care services after October 26.

Our health care system has suffered great adversity in the last decade, but never has understaffing been more glaring than since the onset of COVID-19. Our provincial government has openly admitted that they did not choose to provide the Federal Government’s temporary wage supplement to all health care workers as was done in other provinces, rather they chose to narrowly select those who work in the long term care sector, so as to motivate them to stay at work during this difficult time. This provincial government decision appears to be an acknowledgement that our members are doing the work that others don’t care to do, however, there is no respect for their skill, professionalism or the vital roles they perform. Further, there is no acknowledgement of the network of care provided by either our hospital or home care staff as they don’t qualify for these funds because of the criteria established by our SaskParty Government.

The impact of COVID on environmental services, laboratory services and front line workers generally has been that workloads have increased a lot, but staffing has not. At the same time, many of our members have endured financial loss due to the need to cohort to one facility – in an effort to keep residents, patients, and clients safe.

We continue to hear alarm from our members when days go by in the long term care facility with no cleaning staff. How is this protecting our residents? We continue to hear from members of the lab team that there are fewer MLTs now than in 2017 even though demand for testing has almost doubled with COVID. We know that care staff are running to provide hands-on care. Overtime demands are overwhelming and recruitment efforts are thwarted by unsafe work conditions and stagnant wages. For example, the wage of an experienced care aide in 2007 was equal to an average wage for all workers in Saskatchewan. In 2020, an experienced care aide earns 11% below the average provincial wage.

We have heard announcements of new health care ‘buildings’. Buildings will not resolve the chronic understaffing circumstances that members of the health care team face daily. And while numbers are thrown out to placate the masses, the reality is that providing front line health care services is more dangerous than ever. Within healthcare, the short staffed reality of health care workers becomes the wait list and challenging care environment for our patients, clients and residents.

Sadly, we hear from political pundits that both the NDP and SaskParty platforms will create a tremendous financial burden for us. However, there is little mention of the fact that Saskatchewan deficit budgets have prevailed for too many years without any significant improvement for front line health care. There seems to be no recognition that the current state of affairs has already cost all of us. Can our health care system really afford another four years of austerity?

We desperately need a government that will put aside the old ways of deflection, disrespect and silence. We need a government that will recognize and embrace their role as both funder and regulator of OUR health care system. They need to use this authority to direct fairness into a sector where it is desperately needed. Together we can motivate an end to the chronic understaffing that exists – we cannot afford to ignore the hardships prevailing in our health care system.


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