Saskatchewan’s Minister of Health Everett Hindley.Sierra D’Souza Butts, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Saskatchewan is sending teams to other provinces in an aim to recruit health care workers. Following is an interview with Saskatchewan Health Minister Everett Hindley with the World-Spectator about the new initiative.

How exactly will the recruitment tour work?

It was about a year ago that we launched the four-point Health Human Resources Action Plan to recruit, train, incentivise and retain healthcare workers. We’ve taken a number of steps since that point in time to build upon some of the good work that’s been done and to enhance that when it comes to trying to fill some of the gaps and also plan for the future when it comes to stabilizing and adding more staff to our healthcare work force in this province.

One of a number of initiatives that we’re undertaking is that we’re doing more to hire more local people here in our province by creating more permanent full-time positions, we’re doing more to train more healthcare workers here in Saskatchewan, we’ve added more training seats in our post-secondary institutions this fall and we’re also looking to recruit. This is a challenge right across the country and I would say that the provinces and territories across Canada are looking at recruiting from elsewhere and the same is true for us here in Saskatchewan.

So there’s a recruitment tour that’s being headed by the Health Human Resources Agency and also the SHA. It’s about a 14-day eastern Canada tour this fall that’s being planned. It features a number of SHA hosted employer sessions that highlight working in our province and working with the SHA. It will be highlighting career opportunities, employment incentives, benefits and other key information. Some of this includes on-campus sessions and also some off-campus events, as well as having our officials attend a number of career fairs that are already planned and that are underway in a number of major Canadian cities. It’s starting mid-September to early October there and that’s happening in Toronto, Halifax, Charlottetown, and St. John’s, Newfoundland. Our targeted audience will be focusing on healthcare professionals within Canada and also recent graduates and alumni and also current students that are working hard to get training programs as well.

Who’s leading the charge on this?

It’s the new Sask Health Recruitment Agency headed by Eric Brady who was appointed as the CEO earlier this past spring. Many folks remember the old group called Sask Docs which was very keenly focused on bringing physicians to Saskatchewan. Upon reviewing that, which had been successful over a number of years, looking at our current pressures, we decided to come up with a broader recruitment agency which would focus not only on doctors but also on any number of these health designations where we need people here in our province. So that would be things like psychologists, registered nurses, psychiatric nurses, medical lab techs, perfusionists as well as a number of other positions.

The Sask Health Recruitment Agency is focused on trying to fill those gaps and part of that includes looking at alternatives and ideas such as this, which is identifying where there may be job fairs and on-campus university and post-secondary institutions where we can have a presence on behalf of the province of Saskatchewan. So that’s one of the initiatives that the Sask Health Recruitment Agency has decided to focus on and it has presented some opportunities for us to be involved in that opportunity this fall.

How successful have some of the other Sask Health Human Resources initiatives been?

There have been a number of steps that we have taken over the past number of weeks and months to help enhance what we’re doing here in Saskatchewan. Some of the highlights that I can give you include, Saskatchewan is now implementing an accelerated pathway for internationally educated nurses that will shorten their licensing time frames from what used to be a period of months down to 14 weeks for Filipino registered nurses. We currently have 25 of those individuals who are enrolled in that new pathway. To date 411 commissional offers have been extended to internationally educated nurses and 119 of those are also enrolled in the nursing pathway. As of September 5, the SHA has hired more than 637 nurse graduates both from the province but also from across Canada.

Progress continues towards our target of adding 250 new and enhanced, permanent, full-time positions to stabilize rural and remote areas. That was something we heard coming out of our visits and tours over the past couple of summers where individuals were looking for more permanent, full-time work. In some cases, of those 250 new and enhanced, permanent, full-time positions, 196 of those are now filled. We also have the rural and remote recruitment incentive of up to $50,000 which continues to see a lot of interest. We have 166 incentives conditionally approved to date in 154 communities. Those are just some of the updates that we’ve had thus far and I’m not saying that we don’t have more work to do, but what we’ve done and what we’ve laid out over the past 12 months in particular, I would argue that it’s working and we’re starting to see those results.

Which of those do you think makes the most difference?

Well I think they all work together and that’s why we’ve taken so many different approaches to this, because we need them. I think it’s important that we work to address this, both in the short term but also in the long term. So I think seeing that we’ve had 196 of the 250 new and enhanced, permanent, full-time positions being filled—I think that shows that that’s definitely been successful and that points to what we were hearing as ministers and as MLAs when we were consulting and talking to frontline healthcare providers and locally elected leaders and foundations. We were hearing from those groups saying, “Sometimes there are people who are willing to work more hours but they can’t because there’s not a funded position.” I think there’s been a couple of opportunities and recruitment positions to the Philippines in particular—one last November that Minister Merriman was on and a follow up mission later on in the winter with just officials to try and secure more workers from the Philippines. So those are just a couple of examples.

Of course the number of conditional offers that have been approved for the new incentive program, that shows, I believe, that that is also helping to recruit people to rural communities. So I think there is no one, singular incentive or initiative that is perhaps working better than the other, but I think in tandem with them working together it really shows that we do have an all-hands on deck approach to this and a multi-faceted approach to trying to close some of these gaps we have and also build for the future as well. So there’s really no one answer, I would say that it’s a combination of all of the above.

That $50,000 recruitment incentive, is it available across rural Saskatchewan and blanketing every community or are there certain communities that are approved for that?

No, it’s not available in every community. When we first announced it back in September there was a list of communities that were chosen by the SHA and by our officials in the ministry where there were frequent service disruptions to acute care. Since we’ve expanded, we’ve made a number of tweaks to that program already where perhaps we had a community that came to us and said, “You know what, we weren’t included on that initial list and we’d like to be considered.” So we’ve taken that back to our officials and asked if we can have that community added and we’ve done that. Some of those changed along the way and we said that we wanted to be flexible in that case.

So no, it’s not currently available to every community but we take a look at what the community has for an acute health care facility, what are the challenges that are there—are they iconic service disruption as a result of chronic vacancies and then do we need to take a look at how we’re doing that? So that’s where, for example, we’ve had communities and officials and frontline healthcare workers saying, “You know, we’ve had a disruption here on a regular basis or on a repeat basis for some time now but it’s because, just again as an example, we haven’t had people able to work in a permanent, full-time position, even though we know that there are people that are willing to do that.” So it’s a program that we’ve adjusted along the way as we need to and add communities where we feel that it can be a benefit.

I see that there was a meeting with the SHA and the Ukrainian Canadian Congress. Do you think that there’s potential to fill some of these spots with some of the Ukrainian newcomers? I know we have a Ukrainian newcomer on staff here and there’s lots around the area who maybe aren’t using their skills to their full ability yet and aren’t able to practice the professions that they have.

Yes, there has been some work done there too and I believe there’s been Ukrainian newcomers in the past number of months that have been hired in Saskatchewan or are in the process of being hired, but that definitely is an opportunity as we’re trying to help people in Ukraine through any number of avenues. We do have those who are considering Saskatchewan on a permanent basis and we always do want to look at it and see if they are trained as a healthcare worker and if there is an opportunity to use their skills here in Saskatchewan if they’ve chosen to remain in our province and to make this their new home.

There’s a new residency program that just started last year in southeast Saskatchewan and we have one international graduate who’s actually from Toronto originally, graduated from Manila, and is now doing her residency and family medicine in Moosomin. She’s in her second year now. The second one has now arrived and is from Winnipeg originally. She took her schooling at the U of S and she’s doing her residency in Moosomin, so that’s twofamilies who are possibly in Moosomin for the long term because they’re doing their residency here. How much of a difference do things like that make on the physician side of things?

That’s a very important thing you brought up there Kevin and thanks for raising it. That has also been a beneficial program here in Saskatchewan, expanding that residency program into rural areas and rural communities. The Southeast was the most recent addition to that particular program, that began a number of years ago in some other communities in this province. It has showed very strong success, I would say in terms of allowing for that opportunity for residents to do some work in a community outside of Regina and Saskatoon. To get that opportunity to have some of that work and training in a smaller rural center, and as the result of that we’ve seen some very good success with that program.

What we’ve seen is sometimes when a resident gets that opportunity, they then get a chance to be part of a rural community and perhaps a smaller center and something that’s a little bit different than what you would experience in a major center like Regina or Saskatoon. It then opens up the possibility of that individual perhaps staying in the long term. We’ve seen that in some other parts of Saskatchewan where people have made that choice after completing their residency training in a smaller community. They have actually decided that is where they want to be and in some cases, there are examples where we have had residents who have always wanted to practice in a rural community. They’re grateful to have that opportunity to do that residency there, so I think it has been very successful. We’ve seen that work very well and other areas of the province including my home community of Swift Current where this program launched a number of years ago. I know I can speak of folks here who have become permanent, long-time doctors here in our community as a result of that program. That was one of the things I think that helped. We expect that there would be a similar positive result in other areas of the province, including in and around Moosomin.

In regards to it being a year now since you have launched the Health Human Resources action plan, what have been the biggest challenge with the initiatives and programs you have faced?

I would say the biggest challenge is we can’t do it fast enough and we’re trying to do everything we can to ensure that we are filling these gaps as quickly as we can. These are people that we are talking about when we talk about addressing some of the staffing shortage that we face, some of the communities in our province, and it’s not as easy as some other challenges that we face in health care. I’m not saying that any of them are easier than others, but whatever you are dealing with Health Human Resources, that’s particularly challenging because you are talking about people and their careers, their professions, and where they want to be. Hopefully we can get them to stay in these areas over the long term.

That’s where there’s a finite amount of people to fill these very important positions, highly trained individuals who we are very grateful for having in our province, working in the healthcare portfolio, and we just simply can’t find enough of those people as quickly as we would like.

We are again hopeful that through the recruitment incentives that we have a new permanent full-time position we have created, with some of the recruitment being done by the Health Recruitment Agency. Following up on some of the previous work that has been done in the Philippines and elsewhere, continuing to look for each and every worker in our province that is interested in working health care and trying to find them a position in a facility. Whether it is full time—and some aren’t, some are looking for part time positions for a variety of reasons—but making sure that we really leave no stone unturned when it comes to this. Adding more training seats, 550 more training seats this fall, 18 different healthcare designations. We know we’re not going to see the benefits of that for a few years depending on what that profession might be and how long the training is for that particular profession. That being said, we are seeing the benefits of some of the previous expansions that we‘ve done in the earlier years, for example for a combined lab and x-ray tech, we have expanded some training in that regard and we are seeing more graduates come through that program. We are trying to make sure that we do this as quickly as we can so that the people can have the health care in their communities that they need and deserve. 

When you look at this whole recruitment initiative, do you look at it and say okay, this is working, the more time we give it the more it will work, we got it cased, or is it a case where even more needs to be done to solve the issue?

I would say it’s always continuous improvement, we are always looking at our various programs. What is it we are doing to try to recruit, but also repay health care workers in our province, we need to continue to do that. As an example, the rural position incentive program which had been in place for a number of years, we made some adjustments to that this spring in the budget by increasing the amount of funds available in that particular incentive up to $200 000 for five years now. Initially that program had been working very well, but you are always looking at how do you best meet the needs of those that are looking to work in health care knowing that it is very competitive, not just in our country but elsewhere as well, particularly when they are in high demand right across the globe I would say.

For us we are always looking at what is working and what can we do to make sure we continue to be competitive here in our province when it comes to training, retaining and recruiting health care workers.

By Sierra D’Souza Butts, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Sep 18, 2023

This item reprinted with permission from   Moosomin World-Spectator   , Moosoomin, Saskatchewan

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