Two unions representing health sector workers in Saskatchewan are pointing to overwork as a root cause of absenteeism among its members.
The president of one of the unions representing health care workers in Saskatchewan said she was not surprised by provincial auditor Judy Ferguson’s findings about absenteeism in the health sector.
On Tuesday, Ferguson released the second volume of her annual report, which tracked absenteeism in the Heartland Regional Health Authority and the Saskatchewan Gaming Corporation. She cited Statistics Canada’s 2011 findings that the health and social assistance sectors had the highest absenteeism rates.
Ferguson also cited provincial workers’ compensation numbers showing that nurse aides, orderlies and patient service associates had the highest number of injuries in 2016. Registered nurses were also the fifth-highest occupation with injuries in the province in 2016.
Barbara Cape, president of SEIU-West, said the fact that Heartland was seventh out of 12 health regions in terms of absenteeism reported in 2016-17 means six other health regions have higher rates of absenteeism.
“When there’s not enough staff and you’re trying to do twice as much work without your partner because they’re sick or they’re on workers’ compensation, you have a tendency to overwork yourself and when you’re overworked, you have a tendency to get sick faster or easier or get a workplace injury faster or easier,” Cape said.
SEIU-West has raised the issue of workplace injuries in health care with successive ministers of health because it’s related to insufficient staffing levels, she added.
“You can see a correlation between the rise in complaints from our members on insufficient staffing levels; they correlate to the rise in injuries that have been reported in workers’ compensation claims.”
Tracy Zambory, a registered nurse and president of the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses, said members have talked about short-staffing and increases in incidents of physical attacks and abuse against workers.
In long-term care homes, some clients require lifts to help them sit or stand. Two staff members are required to operate the lifts, but Zambory said because of short-staffing, sometimes a single worker may help a client on their own, risking injury, for example.
“But at the end of it all, we absolutely have to make sure that we have adequate staff to care for the people of Saskatchewan. We have to make sure that staffing properly is one of the key elements that we look at. We have to have the appropriate number of registered nurses and other health care providers,” she said.
The StarPhoenix sought comment from the Ministry of Health, but was referred to the Saskatchewan Health Authority, which did not respond by press time.
Published: December 13, 2017