Sask. nurse’s union president says emergency rooms in the province are collapsing


The Saskatchewan Union of Nurses (SUN) says the situation at Royal University Hospital in Saskatoon was terrible Monday, with 100 people waiting for care and more than 50 in the emergency room waiting for beds to be available. 

Tracy Zambory, president of SUN, said nurses are telling her that situations like this are occurring often.

“Things are not fine. Anyone who is saying otherwise is inaccurate,” she said. “We are still in a collapse system in Saskatchewan, particularly in our large tertiary emergency rooms.”

Zambori said she spoke with members of RUH staff about what happened Monday. 

“After 2 o’ clock, only one patient was moved,” she said. “Mental health patients were laying on the floor. There were people lined up in the hallways waiting for care.”

Zambory said there were patients on portable cardiac monitors with no staff to monitor them.

“It is putting patients’ lives in danger, and registered nurses are feeling such incredible moral injury yet again and again that they can’t just go on.”

A woman with white hair sits clad in a pinkish red suit.
Saskatchewan Union of Nurses president Tracy Zambory says she is concerned about high burnout rates among staff which will affect remote and rural centres the most. (Adam Bent/CBC)

RUH saw a similar situation last fall, when 90 people were waiting in the emergency room with only 31 beds available. At the time SUN said nine of the city’s 15 ambulances were lined up outside the hospital that night.

Zambory said burnout is worsening and nurses are thinking of quitting everyday. She said overcapacity is never under 150 per cent in Saskatoon, and fluctuates between 200 to 300 per cent at RUH.

“We are hearing from members that the situation is just as dire at St. Paul’s Hospital, and just as dire at City Hospital. No place in Saskatoon to move people around,” Zambory said. “We are hitting yet another crisis point.”

CBC reached out to Saskatchewan Health Authority, but did not receive a response before publication time.

Health Minister Paul Merriman said on Tuesday afternoon that he needed to verify what SUN was saying about the emergency rooms.

Merriman said that the government’s solution to hire more health care workers is having an impact.

“When we put 160 doctors, 101 specialists and 59 family physicians in the system in the last 18 months, that is making a difference. There are 72 nurses that we have just hired,” he said.

“The nurses coming from the Philippines are all adding into the system. There wouldn’t be a quick fix to the problem in a month or so.”

Saskatchewan health minister Paul Merriman speaks at the 2022 assembly of the Saskatchewan Medical Association.
Health Minister Paul Merriman said Tuesday that he needed to verify the information from SUN, but was not surprised by the concerns. (Alexander Quon/CBC)

‘We are chronically short-staffed’: Zambori

Zambory said Regina hospitals are facing similar problems.

She said Regina General Hospital is often 150 to 200 per cent overcapacity, and “everyday two to seven nurses short.” 

She said the staff there is administering significant medications like narcotics in ER, but staff shortages mean there are no nurses to follow through.

“Members at Regina General tell us that so many times, that at minimum nine ambulances are backed up. There are police cars and fire trucks parked up. Again, what about the safety of the rest of the citizenry?” she said.

“We are chronically short staffed. RNs across the province are frustrated.”

Zambori said she met with Premier Scott Moe and other ministers last year, and raised the need for a nursing task force. She said incentivizing retired or casual RNs to rejoin the system, as happened during the peaks of the pandemic, might be an immediate stopgap measure. 

“How can we integrate the offshore recruits from the Philippines in our system with no mentorship or support available?” she asked.

“This is not what we should be doing to people who are willing to come from thousands of miles away, giving up their home, their culture and language, to work in a health-care system that has collapsed around our ears.”

Zambory said the premier and the health minister need to sit down with the RNs to get a nursing task force “up and running now.”


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