Healthcare union says government creating ‘dangerous powder keg situation’ with COVID-19 policies

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The union representing roughly 14,000 Saskatchewan healthcare workers says the provincial government “is creating a dangerous powder keg situation” through its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

CUPE Local 5430 took the government to task on Monday, saying rising case numbers among their members were making a bad staffing situation even worse.

Sandra Seitz, the president of Local 5430, said mandatory overtime, understaffed shifts and a lack of transparency with workers about potential outbreaks has caused high levels of burnout and low morale. She called on the provincial government to hire more workers to help meet the demand, while also opening the lines of communication with employees.

“The additional duties that they’re required to do, and the increase in (case) numbers—not only in the community, but within facilities—is adding a mental health toll on our members,” Seitz said during an interview on Monday. “There’s always that fear of taking it home to your families. That, combined with additional duties and just dealing with COVID in itself, does have an impact on our members.”

Seitz said they don’t have an official total showing how many union members have tested positive for COVID-19. As of Sunday, 185 Saskatchewan healthcare workers have contracted the virus, however that number includes non-Local 5430 workers, like doctors. The total includes transmissions that are not related to a healthcare setting.

She added that some departments are under more strain than others, and he urged the government to speak with frontline workers to determine where more staff are needed before they reach a breaking point.

“The government is creating a dangerous powder key situation here,” Seitz said in a media release. “During a pandemic, the government should be ensuring our healthcare workers have everything they need and more to look after patients in our communities. Instead, they’re flirting with disaster.”

On transparency, CUPE wants quicker notifications when outbreaks occur in facilities, and more information about surge plans that may trigger a change in service. They also called on the government to publicly provide an in-depth breakdown of positive COVID-19 cases among healthcare workers.

CUPE Local 5430 members work in a variety of capacities within acute home care and long-term care services. The list includes Licensed Practical Nurses (LPNs), Continuing Care Assistants (CCAs), clerical staff, and tech, maintenance and security employees.

The Daily Herald has reached out to the Ministry of Health and Saskatchewan Health Authority for comment. An SHA spokesperson said the organization would not be able to respond to the comments by the end of day, but promised to respond later.