New beds require staff retention to be effective says NDP leader during Prince Albert stop

Michelle Berg/Saskatoon StarPhoenix NDP Leader Carla Beck holds a press conference at the Ramada Inn and conference centre. Photo taken in Saskatoon, Sask. on Tuesday, September 26, 2023.

It’s one thing to announce new programs and infrastructure. It’s another thing to hire and retain staff.

That was the message from Saskatchewan NDP leader Carla Beck as she stopped in Prince Albert for meetings with local community leaders on Dec. 12.

Beck was reacting to a recently announced Ministry of Social Services plan to open 10 new beds—including five in Prince Albert—for youth ages 12-18 who are dealing with addictions and mental health challenges.

“New spaces are important, and we have to staff them,” Beck said. “(It’s) similar to the urgent care centre announcements in Regina and Saskatoon, I think it’s a good idea, but the question everyone has is ‘how are we going to staff them?’”

Beck said the inability to retain healthcare professionals is hampering the province’s ability to deliver good healthcare. She pointed to the 2022 resignation of Prince Albert’s only child and youth psychiatrist as evidence the City was underserved.

A recent provincial auditors report found 249 Prince Albert youth are waiting for child psychiatric services, with one child waiting for more than four years for service. Beck said the province needs to open the lines of communication with healthcare workers, to fix its retention problems before it can address those needs.

“I think healthcare workers are dedicated to good patient care, but we can’t keep burning them out, and they want to be at the table,” Beck said.

“What we’re hearing from them is that they feel those offers of help and those concerns are falling on deaf ears.”

The provincial government has put out a Request for Proposals for the new five-bed youth psychiatric facility in Prince Albert. In an email to the Herald, a Ministry of Social Services spokesperson wrote that the organization with the winning bid will be responsible for hiring and retaining staff.

As part of the proposal, the spokesperson wrote, bidders must describe a plan to recruit and hire staff members they do not currently employ. Bidders must also describe in detail how they will receive “training specific to working with youth living with mental health or addictions.” Bidders must also describe their approach to issues that could impact the delivery of services such as vacation time, staff illness, resignations, training, or other absences.

When asked if the Ministry had any concerns about being able to attract and retain qualified staff for the new facility, the Ministry provided the following written statement:

“The Request for Proposal indicates that the group home staff will be knowledgeable in youth-centered practices, youth mental health and addictions and be able to demonstrate this working as a team to provide a safe, nurturing home for young people that meets their day-to-day needs. Youth will have access to a multidisciplinary team including health professionals from the Saskatchewan Health Authority.”

Beck’s trip to Prince Albert involved meetings with the Prince Albert Grand Council, as well as stops at the Sexual Assault Centre and Mobile Crisis Unit.

Beck also attended a Prince Albert Raider game with local NDP candidates Nicole Rancourt and Carolyn Brost Strom. Beck said she’s encouraged NDP candidates to be proactive and reach out to voters. She said many voters feel their voices aren’t being heard, and the NDP needs to be there to listen.

“The number one thing that they (Brost Strom and Rancourt) need to do, and all of our candidates are doing, is be connected with the people they hope to serve, certainly on the doorsteps, but on rooms with the Chamber of Commerce, with leadership, with PAGC as we did today, really showing themselves to be …, a government in waiting, and a government that will be focused on building solutions with people in the communities that we serve,” Beck said. “I’m really happy when I see them posting that they have been out doing that work connecting with people.”