The provincial auditor is highlighting the number of sick days taken by employees at two Saskatchewan government organizations and urging improvements in order to see reductions.
One focus for Judy Ferguson is the Heartland Regional Health Authority, which encompassed an area north of Regina and includes Davidson, Kindersley and Unity.
Her report found full-time employees within the region average 10.5 sick days a year. The annual target is eight days a year, which Ferguson said hasn’t been met since 2010.
Even with those numbers, the auditor described the region as being in the middle of the pack, coming in as the seventh-highest region out of the 12 in Saskatchewan when the study was conducted. As of Dec. 1, the 12 are now part of a singular Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA).
Ferguson’s report highlights ways to reduce the average number of sick days.
The first is to better support supervising managers so they are able to actually find the time to manage employee absenteeism.
“They just don’t have the time. They don’t have the time to do the paperwork that’s necessary and the counselling that’s necessary,” she said.
The second way the health region could improve has to do with analyzing the reasons why sick days are being used. She said the region tracked the causes of absences, but no analysis was carried out to find the root cause and whether programs being used are making a difference.
She noted a lot of staff have reported back injuries because employees do a lot of lifting.
Finally, Ferguson said the region needs to show how it’s reducing absenteeism and its associated costs.
As for the move from 12 health regions to one, Ferguson believes that could ultimately help.
“If you can share what’s working across the piece a little bit better than what was currently happening, again that saves time and that you can devote those energies elsewhere.”
The newly formed SHA’s vice-president of quality, safety and strategy Beth Vachon noted that an amalgamated region can begin or continue to address some of the auditor’s points.
“That is definitely one of the things that we see as an opportunity with one health organization now as opposed to 12 different organizations, is really the ability do a broad look at what are the causes of absenteeism within the workplace,” said Vachon.
In conjunction with that, she added the region plans to start looking at different strategies to address bringing down the number of sick days, while ensuring managers have the right supports around them if they’re overworked, as they claim they have been.
The auditor also looked at sick days taken among employees at the Saskatchewan Gaming Corporation (SGC). Ferguson said the organization was successful in reducing its absenteeism, just not as much as hoped.
She said among the more than 800 employed, on average, staff were absent 8.3 per cent of their total working hours because of unscheduled paid and unpaid leaves.
“The cost of absenteeism reduces its profits, which support indigenous and other communities, as well as other government priorities such as health and education,” she explained.
Like the health region, Ferguson also recommended SGC identify root causes of sickness. She also advises the corporation to give managers better guidance to help support staff attendance.
The auditor’s report also touched on the ministry of justice regarding the rehabilitation of adult offenders and provincial court workloads, along with the ag ministry on meat safety regulation and mitigating the risk of livestock disease.
Employees burned out: NDP
NDP opposition interim leader Nicole Sarauer said they’ve heard quite often from healthcare workers who are overworked and stressed in the system. She said it comes at a time of job uncertainty as the transition occurs to the new health authority with the threat of wage cuts looming.
“It’s no wonder why we’re seeing this level of absenteeism and we’re seeing this level of burnout,” said Sarauer.
She said they need to ensure these regions are properly staffed and money flows to front-line workers. Sarauer said you see injuries happen when health care aides work in an environment where they aren’t being properly resourced or supported, and at that point it’s costing the province more money.