The Saskatchewan NDP says ERs in this province — and the health-care staff who work in them — are being pushed to their limits.
But the province says relief is coming in the form of Filipino nurse recruits.
More than 70 nurses from the Philippines are ready to come work in the province. In fact, some have already landed and should be working in the new year, Health Minister Paul Merriman says.
The ministry hasn't determined where they will be placed yet.
In the meantime, the province is working its way through more than 3,000 applications from health-care workers in the Philippines. Also, the Ministry of Health has an additional 40 applications from elsewhere in Canada who are being processed.
Recruitment plan 'working'
"Our recruitment plan is working," Merriman said during question period at the legislature in Regina on Thursday morning. "We are bringing individuals, not just growing our own in Saskatchewan … we're getting individuals [who] are coming from across Canada and around the world because they know what's the potential within Saskatchewan that we have."
However, the NDP says it wants the government to also focus on staff already struggling with packed ERs and overtime requirements..
"When it comes to the crisis in our emergency rooms we've called for a targeted plan to address the ER wait times and the funding to support it. All we've heard from members opposite are excuses," Opposition Leader Carla Beck (Regina-Lakeview) said during question period.
"Can the premier give us one good reason why he's not urgently investing in emergency care to get things under control?"
Premier Scott Moe was not present at the session, and Merriman did not answer Beck's question.
Beck later told reporters that Merriman is ignoring health-care workers in Saskatchewan.
"The minister talks about plans that he's making. We're continuously hearing that this is a minister who is not consulting with the nurses, with the physicians, with the health-care provider unions to help build those solutions, not consulting with with municipalities in many instances," Beck said.
Preparing for the newcomers
Merriman, along with deans and assistant deans from Saskatchewan Polytechnic, the University of Regina and the University of Saskatchewan, leaves Friday for the Philippines.
The institutions will provide recommendations on the credentials Filipino nurses will need to work in the Prairie province. Merriman will meet with members of the Filipino government, as well as potential recruits.
The health minister says the province worked with the Filipino government over the summer to improve the province's "bridging program."
Bridging is the process of bringing nurses from the Philippines into Saskatchewan's health-care system. Much of that process is being done in three-month intervals in the Philippines designed to give the recruits of both the Canadian and Saskatchewan health-care systems.
"We've reduced that … from nine months and a lot of the bridging program actually happens back in the Philippines to be able to make sure when the individuals get here, they can get integrated into our system," Merriman said.
Focus is on nurses
The minister says they are focusing on recruiting nurses now, rather than doctors, as that is where the critical shortage is. Merriman says the ministry will try to get these workers to move to rural places that desperately need their skills.
"Any new employee through the system is eligible for up to $50,000. Certainly, an RN, a nurse practitioner or a psychiatric nurse is eligible for that $50,000 if they go to one of those hard-to-recruit places. But we're going to get them integrated into the system wherever needed as soon as possible."
Merriman says the province is offering health-care workers from out of the country $10,000 to help relocate their family.
In an emailed statement to CBC News, the Ministry of Health said incentives being provided for internationally educated health-care workers include:
Out-of-pocket costs for internationally educated healthcare workers (IEHPs) from the Philippines (educational costs, language and training assessment, professional fees, settlement costs).
Educational costs and incentives for IEHPs located in Saskatchewan.
Settlement incentives and language courses for Ukrainian health-care workers.
Recruits arriving from the Philippines are eligible for incentives including training programs, licensing and resettlement costs, as are internationally trained workers already in Canada and seeking to be licensed in Saskatchewan.
The province hopes to recruit lab technicians and X-ray technicians as well. It is hoping to bring in about 30 individuals on a monthly basis in order to not to overwhelm the health-care system with training and on-boarding.
Meanwhile, Merriman says the ministry has partnered with Saskatchewan's Filipino community to make the arrival of new health-care workers more smooth and welcoming.
"Right now what we're trying to do is, once we have these professionals come in, we set them up in a way that they get compliance from Saskatchewan to get their [nursing] licence," said Chris Rod, Saskatchewan chairman for the Filipino Canadian National Congress.
Rod says the organization will also help new Filipino recruits find housing, set up bank accounts and get settled in their new communities.
"We get them involved within the community there so that they don't feel alienated by themselves," Rod said.
He says the committee responsible for this process will have continuous communication with the new health-care workers: "We'll always be there for them."