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‘Saskatchewan’s emergency departments are overwhelmed by sick patients … and understaffed by health care professionals.’

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This winter, Saskatchewan’s registered nurses are feeling overwhelmed, exhausted and unheard.

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Chronic understaffing has registered nurses working harder than ever in situations that are increasingly dangerous to both health-care staff and their patients. This pace is unsustainable but shows no sign of slowing down.

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Nurses want Saskatchewan residents to know we are eager to collaborate with all levels of government to find solutions.

What we want is simple: for patients to finally receive the care they need, and for registered nurses to practise their profession in safe and sustainable working conditions. Given the current situation, urgent action is needed.

In some rural facilities, registered nurse positions are left unfilled and short-staffing is a frequent problem. In the province’s urban emergency rooms, extreme overcapacity has become the norm.

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Emergency departments in Regina and Saskatoon frequently experience 150-200 per cent overcapacity, preventing registered nurses from achieving safe nurse-to-patient ratios.

This pace has existed without reprieve for so long that many registered nurses now face the incredibly difficult decision of leaving their positions in favour of something less stressful.

Meanwhile, the government of Saskatchewan has created a plan focused on recruiting new nurses without taking adequate steps to improve the existing care environment or support those struggling to provide safe, high-quality patient care.

Right now, Saskatchewan’s emergency departments are overwhelmed by sick patients, particularly children suffering from RSV and Influenza A, and understaffed by health-care professionals.

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The emergency department at the Jim Pattinson Children’s Hospital in Saskatoon is overcapacity from 100 to 400 per cent on any given day. Sick kids are waiting up to 24 hours to be seen — some sitting in their cars because there isn’t space inside the hospital.

Registered nurses arrive for each shift knowing they will be asked to care for too many patients, too quickly, and with too little space and too few resources. They work each shift feeling it’s only a matter of time before a mistake is made and a patient is harmed as a result.

For sustainable change, governments must focus on two key areas to fix the nursing shortage crisis: keep experienced registered nurses in their jobs and recruit registered nurses where they are needed most. We need proven programs, backed by firm timelines and real accountability.

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To stop registered nurses from quitting, going part-time, or retiring early, nurses must have the ability to provide safe patient care, use their professional judgment and have manageable workloads. Saskatchewan can legislate to improve patient care by mandating safe nurse-to-patient ratios and by making targeted investments in retention initiatives.

The federal government should also make direct investments to support return and recruitment initiatives, including mental health programming.

In a 2022 survey, a large majority of Saskatchewan registered nurses reported symptoms of mental and emotional strain, while fewer than one in five found they had adequate supports available to them to manage their emotional and mental well-being.

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These solutions will help bring registered nurses and early retirees back to the public sector, reducing Saskatchewan’s reliance on expensive private agencies while still ensuring surge needs are met across the country.

We also need to expand domestic training programs and target recruitment to diversify the nursing workforce.

To that end, the province should scale up student nurse programs to support them in securing employment in attractive full-time jobs and expand access to micro-credentials to support nurses wanting to advance in their careers.

The Saskatchewan government needs to listen to health-care providers and their lived experiences and implement a task force to help steer health care policy. Registered nurses need a seat at the table and the opportunity to ensure Saskatchewan patients receive the high-quality, safe care they deserve.

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We are registered nurses because of our drive to care for others, and we want to see our neighbours, friends and loved ones thrive in a health system that values health-care workers.

Governments are struggling to work together to reach an agreement on health-care funding. It’s time to stop the blame game and take immediate action. Registered nurses in Saskatchewan have real solutions; our governments need to listen.

Tracy Zambory, RN, is the president of the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses, and Linda Silas is the president of the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions.

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