Sask. releases progress report on recruitment, retention of health-care workers

The Saskatchewan government provided an update on how its plan to recruit, train and retain health-care workers is progressing. (Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit)
The Saskatchewan government provided an update on how its plan to recruit, train and retain health-care workers is progressing. (Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit)

Saskatchewan's health minister says the province is making "steady progress" in its plan to attract and retain health-care workers.

The provincial government announced its Health and Human Resources Action Plan — a commitment of $60 million to recruit and retain health-care workers — in the fall. It said it would bring in approximately 1,000 more physicians, nurses and other health-care support staff to fill vacancies.

On Thursday, the Ministry of Health released a progress report.

"As we start a new year, I look forward to more actions to build on the successes we have had so far. It's important we continue to spread the word that Saskatchewan is an outstanding place to build and grow your health-care career," Minister of Health Paul Merriman said in a news release.

The government pointed to its plan to bring in registered nurses, continuing care aides and lab assistants from the Philippines. Merriman was part of a recruiting delegation that travelled to Manila in December. At the time, the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) made 129 conditional offers to candidates there.

On Thursday, the government said 160 job offers have been made. One continuing care aide started working in Moose Jaw last month.

The ministry said registered nurses who have been offered jobs are now working on language, education and licensing.

The government said it has 600 applications from health-care workers who are internationally educated, but not licensed to work here.

The province also highlighted how it plans to incentivize students to stay in the province. It said it had nearly 90 per cent of the 78 in-province nursing graduates from December submit an expression of interest to the SHA.

The SHA also said that as of Jan. 11, people have been hired for 92 of 164 "high priority" positions in rural and remote Saskatchewan.

The provincial government is offering up to $50,000 as part of a three-year return-to-service agreement to workers in nine different "high priority positions" in rural and remote communities.

"We are making progress in attracting health-care candidates in rural and northern communities throughout Saskatchewan," Rural and Remote Health Minister Everett Hindley said in a news release.

Need for staff urgent, NDP says

Critics of the government's plan have said it does not do enough to address immediate shortages.

The Saskatchewan Union of Nurses (SUN) said after the action plan was announced in September that the province failed to consult them on the development. SUN's president said the union could have assisted, and stressed that the plan would "do nothing" to retain current employees.

In December, a provincial auditor's report revealed the SHA would need to hire 2,000 workers in hard-to-recruit positions over the next five years.

Auditor Tara Clemett said the SHA has an estimated shortfall of 2,200 staff over the next five years in these hard-to-recruit positions, including 840 continuing care assistants, 520 registered nurses and 180 medical laboratory technologists.

The auditor also reported that the SHA had more staff leave in 2021-22 than were hired.

On Thursday, Opposition rural and remote health care critic Matt Love said the government is "patting itself on the back for doing the bare minimum."

"They're not taking any immediate action to make any real improvements right now," Love said.

Love pointed to the number of current vacancies in health care jobs in the province. As of Thursday, there were more than 1,700 job vacancies posted on, including 669 registered nurse positions and 226 continuing care assistants.

"[The government] is not listening to those folks working on the front line. Nurses, care aides and doctors have not been consulted in the creation of this plan. Their ideas and their valued input have not been included. A plan that fails to consult is preparing to fail."

Love said the government's action plan goal of 1,000 workers will still fall well short of the number of workers needed, as projected by the auditor last month.