By Marcia Love
A local resident is very concerned staffing numbers at the Southwest Integrated Healthcare Facility are too low and putting patient and resident safety at risk.
Barb Genert has voiced her concerns to the Cypress Health Region, but its response hasn’t calmed her fears. She is worried about the well-being of patients, long-term care residents and staff.
Employees in both acute and long-term care have cited similar concerns, feeling there isn’t enough staff to provide high-quality care. Staff would not state their concerns on the record as employees are not permitted to speak to media on health region matters without the permission of Cypress Health Region.
Resident families have also stated they are worried there isn’t enough staff in long-term care to give their loved ones the care and attention they need.
Cypress Health Region reports it has filled some of its vacant positions, but it is still seeking to fill others.
Trent Regier, Cypress Health Region’s director of rural health, said it is reviewing levels to ensure it has the right staff in the right locations.
“There’s lots of reviews going on based on staff comments, based on comments that were received from families,” he explained. “So hopefully within the next little while we’ll be able to hire a few more people as well as work through some of the challenges that our staff have presented us and to see whether we can provide some support that way as well.”
He expects the health region will have a clearer understanding of this in the new year.
Staff have brought their challenges to the health region, and this is being used in the decision-making process, Regier said.
“We’re working with our regional managers to try to provide some further education, shift routines, to help them with some of their workload challenges,” he stated.
Regier believes about three staff members have recently left the health facility — some stepping into retirement and one moving back to Alberta for personal reasons.
He said the facility is short on casual staff to provide relief for other staff.
“That’s a hard one to figure out, because people won’t move to Maple Creek if they’re not guaranteed hours,” Regier said.
In response to this, the health region reported it is working on establishing a nursing resource team, which would provide assistance in the area of registered nursing. Those wishing to only work casually have that option, but part-time staff wishing to work up to full-time hours could do so by providing registered nursing relief shifts at locations such as Maple Creek, Leader and Shaunavon.
“It makes it more enticing to the person to apply for the position if they know they’re going to be guaranteed full-time work,” Regier said.
The health region is negotiating this program with the Ministry of Health and the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses (SUN) to determine how it can be arranged within the budget and the collective bargaining agreement.
Regier said staffing levels have increased since relocating from the Maple Creek Hospital and Cypress Lodge to the new facility. According to the health region, there are more continue care assistants (CCAs) serving the 45 long-term care residents. There were six CCAs on shift during the day at Cypress Lodge, but there are now nine (three in each home) at the new facility during the day, Regier said. In the evenings there were four on shift at the lodge, but this number has moved to six (two per home), and at night there were only two, but now there are three (one per home), he stated.
“They’re not doing all the work that we’re desiring them to do, because we’re phasing that in slowly,” Regier stated. “They’re not doing all the cooking, they’re not doing all the cleaning. They’ve been doing the laundry for about a year now.”
He said 12 hours of professional nursing for residents has been increased to 16 hours. A nurse was on-call at night at Cypress Lodge, but now the licensed practical nurse and RN at the hospital during the night assist in long-term care when needed.
Genert is worried there isn’t enough staff at the facility, which could compromise safety.
She said her confidence in the health care system has dissipated since her father, Don Byers, died three years ago at the age of 76 as a result of a medical error while in hospital in Regina. She said her family did not wish to file a lawsuit, but instead wanted to see changes made to restore health care to what it used to be — caring for the patient.
“It’s a Canada-wide problem, but especially in Saskatchewan,” she stated. “We’re so far behind in every area.”
According to a Canadian report, errors by health professionals are the third leading cause of avoidable death. Each year, medical errors and hospital-acquired infections account for over 30,000 deaths in Canada, with thousands more injured.
The recent death of 45-year-old Michael Line, who suffered a heart attack while waiting for three-and-a-half hours in the emergency room at Cypress Regional Hospital in Swift Current, as well as word of staffing shortages and overworked staff at the Southwest Integrated Healthcare Facility have resurrected Genert’s frustration.
She feels funding is not being directed to the right areas to provide sufficient staffing and care.
“It’s money mismanagement. If we got back to the fundamentals of nurses and housekeeping, the infections would be down,” she said, adding an increased number of staff would also reduce the amount of stress on employees. “I truly believe that most of the staff are so overworked and stressed that when they take a sick day, it’s a mental health day.”
Genert believes too much money is being directed at management and not enough is being put toward having feet on the ground to deliver care.
Many have questioned the number of casual positions at the facility compared to full-time, wanting to see more full-time.
But according to Cypress Health Region, staff in permanent positions at the health facility must be guaranteed hours. Casual staff are brought in to cover when needed, but are not guaranteed hours and are only called upon when required. Guaranteeing hours for additional staff would mean working them into the rotation, which creates challenges in guaranteeing other staff members’ hours, it reported.
As of Tuesday, the health region was seeking two casual CCAs, a casual LPN, a casual RN, two casual lab/X-ray technicians, a casual emergency medical responder, a casual unit assistant, a casual scheduler for home care, a casual office administrative assistant, a casual cook, a casual environmental services worker, and a casual food services worker.
Regier said the health region is recruiting for casual CCAs to provide relief.
“We have some people that have reduced their availability because they are working through the CCA program,” he said. “Once they’re done that, then they’ll come back and be… available for more hours or start applying on some of our casual positions as well as any of the part-time positions that are left.”
He said the facility is down one full-time nurse, but a contract nurse is picking up the majority of those shifts. The nursing unit co-ordinator has also taken a nurse aide position, leaving the co-ordinator position vacant as well.
“We’re continuing to recruit,” Regier said. “We’re just trying to fill as many positions and build our casual depth.”
He added the new facility has only been completely open for three months.
“We’re still seeing some of the challenges related to a new model of care, additional duties, and a new building,” Regier stated. “This is probably a six-month to 12-month process to fine-tune where we’re at.”
He said the health region appreciates the work of all staff at the Southwest Integrated Healthcare Facility, which couldn’t operate without them.
As for Genert, health care issues are especially close to her as her father was involved in Tommy Douglas’ fight for medicare.
“It was the health care system that ended up killing him,” she said sombrely.
She hopes changes can be made soon to ensure the safety of patients — especially in rural Saskatchewan where it is often overlooked.
“To me, our health care system should be about the patient. We need to get back to taking care of that patient and getting them healthy,” Genert said. “It shouldn’t be about the dollar and running it like a business. It should save lives, not kill them.”