Channelling the spirit of a “one-team” mentality, the Saskatchewan government is asking public sector employees from other departments to help the health-care system in the coming weeks.
In an e-mail to executive council staff, who provide support to Premier Scott Moe, his cabinet and committees, workers were asked to volunteer as care aides in hospitals, long-term care homes, COVID-19 testing sites and public health clinics.
The Saskatchewan Health Authority said in a statement that the duties would be non-medical roles such as meal preparation, cleaning and administrative duties. That includes feeding people, taking residents or patients to the bathroom, helping them get dressed, answering phones, moving medical supplies and directing traffic.
“In the spirit of one team, I encourage you to consider this request,” the email to government employees reads.
The Saskatchewan Health Authority is seeking 500 volunteers to assist in areas that are understaffed due to COVID-19, including in the province’s far north.
Earlier this week, the health authority’s chief operating officer Derek Miller said 17 per cent of its workforce was off because they were isolating from COVID-19 or staying home with a sick child. He expected that number to rise up to 20 per cent.
The province’s emergency centre said in a statement that no staff have been redeployed at this time, but the email sent to government employees said it hoped to have a list of volunteers ready this week.
Saskatchewan’s chief medical health officer, Dr. Saqib Shahab, said the province is one of the last in Canada to experience the Omicron wave, which modelling suggests could produce record hospitalizations in the coming weeks if people don’t reduce gathering sizes.
Moe said he won’t implement more COVID-19 measures, and was instead focusing efforts on booster shots and rapid antigen testing.
Health Minister Paul Merriman and Jim Reiter, minister responsible for the Public Service Commission, declined to comment. In a statement, a spokesperson said the government doesn’t have any additional information to add.
Dr. Alexander Wong, an infectious disease physician with the Saskatchewan Health Authority, said hospitals are again becoming overwhelmed, just months after the province’s health-care system nearly collapsed during the Delta wave. At that time, urgent surgeries were cancelled, adults were being treated in children’s intensive care wards and organs went unused because there was no staff for surgeries.
“It doesn’t appear that we will get a reprieve,” Wong said in an interview Thursday.
He said administrative and housekeeping jobs are important to keep hospitals running, but the staff shortage is health-care workers.
“The real crunch is going to be front-line workers – nurses especially and doctors to a degree – but mostly it’s going to be nurses and all front-line workers who have been crushed over, and over, and over,” Wong said.
“It’s hard to muster the energy to say, ‘I’m going to do another week on the COVID ward. I’m just so tired. So tired.”’
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