Saskatchewan. hires private company to help with Omicron surge

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SHA said 300 full-time equivalent employees from partners and external agencies are onboarding this week to support this work.

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The Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) has hired a private company to perform contact tracing and case management in the province to deal with the Omicron surge of COVID-19 cases.

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Barb Cape, president of health care union SEIU-West, said that while she does not approve of the privatization of health services, health care workers need a reprieve.

“They’re bugged, completely exhausted and I don’t think they have more capacity in them to do this job,” Cape said.

She said it’s important the government is prepared, but suggested the projected staffing shortages are the result of an underfunded healthcare system.

“I think that underscores the fundamental problem, which is that we’ve cut our healthcare system so drastically that’s what we have to resort to,” she said. “We don’t have enough health workers. There are over 1,400 vacancies right now, so I wonder where they’re going to get these people from.

The SHA said the additional private staff will work alongside the health authority team.

“The public should not notice any change in service,” the SHA said.

The authority did not provide estimated costs for hiring contract staff. SHA said the costs will depend on how long the additional resources are needed.

The costs will be reported in the SHA’s annual report, he added.

Cape said she hopes a high level of monitoring will continue when the new contact management staff take office.

With the Omicron wave, the SHA presented a contingency plan based on the expected increase in demand and the inability of staff to work.

The plan has five strategies, including “departure teams” to maintain health services which the government says can be mobilized quickly. The government will also cross-train staff and use additional labor teams.

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Additional crews include accessing contracted services to support HealthLine 811, case investigation and notification, said Derek Miller, chief of emergency preparedness at SHA.

The authority is also looking to potentially hire retirees or other partner health organizations, Miller said.

“Overall, we’re looking at all possible sources of staff to really mitigate the impact this is having on services to people,” Miller said at a news conference.

jsimes@postmedia.com

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