More than 2K health-care workers needed over next 5 years, auditor says

Saskatchewan's auditor said the province needs to hire more than 2,000 healthcare workers including 520 registered nurses in the next five years. (Getty Images - image credit)
Saskatchewan's auditor said the province needs to hire more than 2,000 healthcare workers including 520 registered nurses in the next five years. (Getty Images - image credit)

The provincial auditor says the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) needs to find more than 2,000 workers in hard-to-recruit positions over the next five years.

Auditor Tara Clemett released part two of her annual report on Tuesday afternoon.

Clemett's office examined a wide array of issues in the report, one area of focus was the SHA's need to find more workers.

She said the SHA has an estimated 2,200 staff shortages over the next five years in these hard-to-recruit positions. Specifically, 840 continuing care assistants, 520 registered nurses, and 180 medical laboratory technicians.

"To provide Saskatchewan residents with access to health services they need, the authority must anticipate not only the number and type of health-care professionals required to provide those services but also where those positions are needed most," Clemett said.

"Knowing where in the province these gaps exist helps in implementing appropriate strategies to recruit and especially to retain staff as it can be difficult to staff facilities in rural and remote areas, particularly in the north."

In September, the Saskatchewan government released its Health and Human Resource Plan detailing how it would hire and retain health care workers.

The $60-million initiative aims to bring about a thousand more physicians, nurses and other health care support staff to fill vacancies across the province.

Last week, Health Minister Paul Merriman was in the Philippines on a recruitment trip. The government plans to hire 150 healthcare workers from that country. Merriman said last month 70 nurses were ready to work in the province over the next few months.

Auditor says resource plan should have been created sooner, must focus on retention

Clemett said she was pleased with the plan but said it should have been created sooner.

"The (SHA) formed in 2017. It is a little bit worrisome that it took them this long to have a formal health human resource plan. It is something I would have envisioned you had sooner once you had centralized and become an authority."

Clemett said the "status quo" and the health recruitment and retention plan announced in September still fall short of the 400 health-care workers needed per year over the next five years in hard-to-recruit positions.

The report said training more nurses will not have an immediate impact and "retaining existing staff is needed to help the authority address staffing shortages in the short-term," the report said.

"I think the focus can't just be getting more new people into Saskatchewan. It's about retaining the current workforce the authority has as well," Clemett said.

She mentioned moving casual staff into permanent positions and she recommended the SHA do regular staff exit interviews and review those results.

The report said a recent survey found 66 per cent of SHA staff felt burned out from their work.

"They've done their first ever staff engagement culture survey. The results weren't that good," Clemett said.

She said the SHA needs to look at "root causes" of why staff leave and why they do not stay in rural areas. She said that would need to be followed by actions to address those issues.

Clemett said identifying which facilities need the most staff is a start.

"At the end of the day, they didn't have a good analysis to tell me which facilities in this province have the most significant gaps."

Richard Agecoutay/CBC
Richard Agecoutay/CBC

The auditor's report found the SHA's staffing gap analysis "does not specifically identify which facilities or locations in the province will experience the largest shortages; our analysis found the Authority expects to need 700 staff alone in Prince Albert, Meadow Lake and La Ronge over the next five years."

Clemett said looking at the SHA's website and seeing where service disruptions exist, provides a clue.

She said the SHA should look at providing things like childcare and spousal employment to entice workers to rural and remote areas.

Clemett recommended the SHA establish a First Nations and Métis recruitment and retention plan. She said this could help fill gaps in Northern Saskatchewan.