Provincial Auditor Tara Clemett made seven recommendations to the Saskatchewan Health Authority after an audit of the organization’s processes to fill and retain hard-to-recruit healthcare positions.
During a media conference on Tuesday morning, Clement said the prolonged staff shortages disrupt services and affect patient care in an industry in which deficiencies can mean life or death. She said the SHA’s broad recruitment, retention strategies and targeted plans for its healthcare positions lack consideration of certain areas like varied sources of qualified staff, social supports needed in northern communities, and the root causes behind hard-to-recruit positions.
The SHA anticipates more than 2,000 staff shortages across the province in the next five years, including 840 continuing care assistants, 520 registered nurses, and 180 medical laboratory technician positions. As of March 2022, 11 out of 31 hard-to-recruit positions had chronic vacancies greater than 5 per cent.
“To provide Saskatchewan residents with access to health services they need, the Authority must anticipate not only the number and type of healthcare professionals required to provide those services, but also where those positions are needed most,” said Clemett. “Knowing where in the province these gaps exist helps in implementing appropriate strategies to recruit and especially to retain staff as it can be difficult to staff facilities in rural and remote areas, particularly in the north.”
To combat the increasing shortages, Clemett recommended that the SHA needs to continually implement and monitor the success of targeted plans to fill hard-to-recruit positions with significant gaps, determine the optimal supply of new graduates needed to help address staffing shortfalls, assess whether post-secondary training seats purchased out of province and student clinical placements are successful recruitment strategies, establish a First Nations and Metis recruitment and retention plan, and centrally analyze results from staff exit interviews to influence retention strategies.
She noted that even with the recruitment of potential nurses from the Philippines, the SHA still expects to need another 200 registered nurses in 2022-23.
“While the expansion of nursing seats in the province will help to address the Authority’s long-term staffing needs, it will not have an immediate impact on staffing shortfalls,” Clemett said. “Successful recruitment and retention of key staff is a significant factor toward providing quality healthcare services and meeting staff demand.”
The Saskatchewan Provincial Auditor’s 2022 report found that without sufficient, quality measures to determine which recruitment and retention activities are working, the SHA will face challenges to effectively address vacancies in a timely way. While Clemett said the SHA’s Health Human Resource Plan 2022-2026 was relatively comprehensive, the Authority will still need continual assessment to update significant resourcing gaps as healthcare services change.