Saskatchewan’s nurses union is raising a red flag about personal protective equipment (PPE) and confusion at two hospitals experiencing outbreaks of COVID-19 in northern Saskatchewan.
In late April, the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) began telling nurses it was looking for staff to travel north and assist with outbreaks in La Loche and Lloydminster.
A news release from the SHA on May 1 said, “over 100 staff” had expressed interest.
But now, the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses (SUN) is raising concerns about some nurses who volunteered for those remote assignments being told they need to refrain from working elsewhere for at least 14 days if they’ve worked in Lloydminster or La Loche.
The move caused the union, which represents roughly 9,000 nurses, to be “taken aback.”
“The direction that a SUN member would be considered unsafe to work in their home position after filling needs in Lloydminster and/or La Loche causes great concern for SUN and for SUN members,” said a May 3 letter sent from SUN via Nordal La to Kevin Zimmerman, the SHA’s executive director of labour and employee relations.
“It suggests that either appropriate PPE will not be provided to SUN members working in Lloydminster/La Loche — or — even with appropriate PPE SUN members are at risk. Either of these situations are of grave concern.”
The letter from SUN claims the order to nurses came verbally from Dr. Mandiangu Nsungu in Lloydminster and from Dr. Rim Zayed in La Loche. As of Friday afternoon, 186 of the province’s 203 active cases — more than 90 per cent — are in the north and far north, where Lloydminster and La Loche are located.
So far, Saskatchewan has reported 544 cases of COVID-19.
Tracy Zambory, president of SUN, said the 14-day requirement has been a source of confusion for many registered nurses, as those who volunteered for the assignment were not told about the restrictions during the initial call out and it contradicts staffing protocols for the rest of the province.
“They were shocked,” Zambory said of nurses who had signed on for the northern assignments. “They were somewhat miffed and dismayed, because again, they weren’t told the entire story.”
She said SUN has been trying to get clarity from the province, but has been met with silence.
“These rules seem to pop out of nowhere.”
Zambory said the order in La Loche and Lloydminster also raised questions about health-care worker safety in other parts of the province, as there have been many nurses working with COVID-19 patients who have not had to follow the same protocol.
She said transparency the provincial government has lacked transparency, as SUN has not been at the planning table when it comes to the province’s pandemic response or its plans to reopen.
“We are not being treated as an equal partner. We are not. That has not been happening. We are just expected to go without any conversation,” she said.
On Friday, Dr. Susan Shaw, the chief medical officer with the SHA, confirmed that nurses at the northern facilities were given the restrictions, but said it only applied to a specific group of nurses.
“There is absolutely adequate PPE and processes in place to keep staff safe,” she said.
Dr. Shaw said there is “no direction or need” for a staff member, including nurses, to self-isolate if they’ve been providing direct care to a COVID-19 positive patient, or a patient who is presumed to be positive.
“There were very specific medical health officer orders in place that were very specific to certain staff at a specific point of time,” she said.
Shaw said the SHA has received questions from SUN and it would be speaking with the union directly on Friday.