The results of the Saskatchewan Ministry of Health’s first Resident and Family Experience Survey and CEO tour indicate widespread concern with inadequate staffing in long-term care. In all but one of the twelve former health regions, staffing levels and/or staff recruitment and retention were raised as issues during the CEO tour.

“This certainly confirms what our many members who work in long-term care have been saying for years,” says Pearl Blommaert, Vice-President of CUPE Local 5430, which represents 14,000 health care workers in Saskatchewan.

In the fall of 2015, CUPE surveyed more than 400 long-term care workers. Short-staffing and workload were top issues. Front-line workers reported not being able to provide proper personal care to all residents because they did not have enough time.

“The reality is that the working conditions in long-term care are also the living conditions of residents, the living conditions of thousands of Saskatchewan seniors,” says Blommaert. “Increased workloads and short-staffing translate into reduced care for residents, which can mean fewer baths, reduced personal care, problems with ‘wandering residents’, and inadequate recreational and therapeutic programing for residents.”

As the largest health care provider union in the province, CUPE welcomes a government commitment to ongoing surveys of long-term care residents and their families. However, the 2017 survey released on February 22 was critically flawed in its scope. Only residents in long-term care facilities with 20 beds or less and their families were surveyed.

“This survey sample is not representative of the majority of residents in long-term care in Saskatchewan,” says Blommaert. “For example, in the former Sun Country Regional Health Authority, only four of 17 special care homes have 20 or fewer beds. In the former RQHR, only three of 22 special care homes have 20 or fewer beds. The average number of beds at facilities in the Regina area is 76,” says Blommaert. “This appears to have been a selective rather than a representative survey since it systematically excluded all the facilities where most residents live.”

Despite its sole focus on small facilities, and apparent lack of input from front-line workers, the survey does point to widespread concerns with staffing levels. The survey found that only 66% of family members said that “care team members are available when my family member needs them.” While only 63% of families agreed with the statement “my family member has choices regarding care” (choices meaning what time to wake up, what to wear, etc.).

“The seniors of this province in long-term care facilities deserve dignity and quality care. CUPE hopes the government takes these reports to heart and commits to greater long-term investment in front-line staff in long-term care,” says Blommaert.

CUPE is the largest union in Saskatchewan, representing 30,000 workers including 14,000 health care workers.