It’s been a whirlwind start to 2024, so here’ a quick “in case you missed it” of SUN in the media.

I know it feels like the news only focuses on emergency rooms (ER) in Saskatoon and Regina. Yes, this is often the case. In the past, I have described these overburdened ERs as the “canaries in the coalmine”.  They are the flashpoints where the symptoms of broader system issues and shortfalls tend to manifest – often in the most shocking and dangerous ways. No wonder they are viewed as the most “news worthy” stories to tell by media outlets.

It's SUN’s job – my job as your spokesperson – to use each opportunity to tell the full story. To help people understand the “why” and to leverage the public discourse we create to advocate for change with the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) and government. As registered nurses we know there’s always a root cause and no story begins at the doors of an ER.    

February 2024 was a difficult month for Saskatoon ERs. Sustained overcrowding, sometimes exceeding 200 per cent, led to clogged hallways, and backlogged waiting rooms, triggering both occupational health and safety and fire marshal investigations.

SUN did not let these inhumane and unsafe conditions go unnoticed.

Sounding the alarm created an opening for us to also comment on wider system pressures; things the public wouldn’t be expected to know.

Upstream, hospitals are grappling for space and facing persistent registered nurse shortages, particularly on medical and surgical units. We are also struggling to move alternate level of care patients back into community because of a lack of publicly funded transitional and long term care beds, and access to home care. Regional centers are also short the registered nursing staff and beds needed for patients to be safely discharged back to their home communities.  

Downstream, rural registered nurse shortages cause constant service disruptions. Saskatchewan has seen the largest decrease in rural registered nursing workforce across Canada since 2018 – down 21 per cent– according to data from the Canadian Institute of Health Information (CIHI). It’s little wonder rural patients increasingly end up in larger center ERs.

This past January, SUN spoke out against regressive changes to harm reduction programs in the province. This is another severely under-resourced area of health care that along with stretched mental health services, is putting communities at risk.

The SHA’s action plans to curtail these pressures are not translating to the frontline either. “Recycled” initiatives such as reclassifying temporary positions as full time, or posting increases to baseline staffing that were achieved through member action and Independent Assessment Committee (IAC) decisions should not be promoted as new. We have relentlessly been holding the SHA to account for this. The public deserve accurate, clear information.

In 2024, SUN has kept the pressure up, driving public discourse and shaping media headlines. We have taken Saskatchewan’s health care story – your story from the frontlines – into the homes of communities across the province and even onto the national stage, and the cracks are beginning to show. Earlier this year, an Angus Reid poll found that 68% of respondents said the provincial government is doing a poor or very poor job when it comes to health care.

It’s clear we are well beyond a quick fix. The overtime hours worked by registered nurses in 2023, equivalent to 748 full time equivalent positions, tell us this. It’s hurting patients and it’s hurting registered nurses. The fact is: [Registered] nurses need protection from overwork for safety’s sake. These were my exact words in a joint Postmedia opinion piece I penned with Linda Silas, president of the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions (CFNU) in early February.

If history has taught Saskatchewan government’s –present and past – anything, it should be that SUN and registered nurses will not be silenced. Not when so much is at stake.

Tracy Zambory

President, Saskatchewan Union of Nurses


Catchup on your reading: a small sample of recent media