SASKATOON -- The Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) has seen a steep increase in employees working overtime.

Since April 2020, the SHA is reporting a 4,539 per cent increase in overtime hours.

The data was revealed in the latest physician townhall. Doctors working for the SHA meet virtually every Thursday to discuss key pandemic information.

“The overtime hours paid for COVID support work have been really, really significant,” Dr. Johnmark Opondo, a medical health officer with the SHA, said in the meeting.

In the townhall, Opondo said the overtime spike can be largely attributed to contact tracing.

“It shows the amount of work it has taken to do some of the contact tracing work — which isn’t always visible. This is the back office work, the online work and the calling. It’s not always the front and centre of your mind, but it really shows,” he said.

The meeting’s presentation slides also showed a massive surge in employees.

In the first quarter of 2020, there were 766 SHA employees.

In the first quarter of 2021, the SHA is reporting a workforce of 1,859.

“The slope of the curve just shows you the demand and how busy,” Opondo said.

Full-time equivalent (FTE), a unit that indicates the hourly workload of an employed person, also showed a sharp climb during the pandemic.

From the second quarter in 2020 to the first quarter of 2021, there was an increase of 973 FTEs with 293 people added to the SHA workforce.

“What that data is telling you, is we’ve got way more hours of work than we have people to do that work and that’s why there’s massive amounts of overtime,” said Tracy Zambory, president of the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses.

Zambory said she’s heard stories from members about burnout and stress on the frontlines.

“They’re often short-staffed, but they just keeping coming in. They just keep doing,” Zambory said.

Infectious disease specialist Dr. Alexander Wong remembers the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Walking through the Regina ICUs, he said he could feel the pressure.

“They felt like war zones. There was just so much going on, and I don’t mean that it was disorganized or chaotic. There was just a level of activity going on, we’ve never seen before,” Wong said.

He said the the nurses, respiratory therapists, pharmacists and frontline staff never stopped showing their strength.

“Really going above and beyond, working ridiculous hours, no breaks and just powered through. We got through it, and we’re on the other side — thank goodness,” Wong said.