SASKATOON -- On Monday, the Government of Saskatchewan issued an emergency order to redirect and reschedule health-care workers to COVID-19 hotspots.

It is an attempt to relieve some of the pressure caused by staffing shortages. Saskatchewan set a new record of 506 new cases on Tuesday.

Speaking to the mental stress and fatigue experienced in his emergency room at Royal University Hospital, Dr. James Stempien says nurses and physicians are having burnout related issues watching more and more patients come into crowded emergency departments, which makes it more difficult to provide care.

Being redeployed, he says, could add to that level of stress.

“Our emergency nurses and physicians are very resilient people, so for them to make that decision to go help an area that needed extra staffing, they would do the best they could, but sure you can imagine there would be a stress involved.”

Saskatchewan Union of Nurses president Tracy Zambory says a redeployment of staff would be much more effective if it was paired with a reinstatement of public health orders.

“This is a wrongheaded decision. We can't just have a partial state of emergency that only affects how workers are moved around in the province.

“We need that vaccine passport government wide. They need to support that and they need to institute it, and we need the mandatory masking in indoor public places.

“We need to look at the numbers of people gathering, we need to talk once again about the size of people's bubbles. We need to talk about how often people go out.”

Zambory says health-care workers are feeling demoralized, devalued and despondent. She cites the COVID-19 situation facing the province of Alberta as an example of what she’d like to avoid.

“Their numbers are so horrific that they've reached capacity in the system. The last thing that any health care provider wants to do, any registered nurse wants to do, is have to decide who gets care and who doesn't. We can't have this in this province.”

The Saskatchewan Health Authority and health sector unions did have a letter of understanding that allowed for labour mobility, but it expired when restrictions were lifted.

“It's another case of where the government is failing to do the things that they can do to bring the numbers under control,” said NDP labour critic Carla Beck.

“The government is not keeping up their end of the bargain, but instead is taking heavy handed action against those very health care workers who are telling us they're feeling demoralized and disrespected.”

PROTESTS OUTSIDE HOSPITALS

NDP leader Ryan Meili called on the Government of Saskatchewan to put an end to protests outside of hospitals on Tuesday.

“We're calling on this government to do the right thing, to outlaw protests at hospitals and clinics and pharmacies. To stop the harassment and intimidation of patients, their families, and the health care workers working so hard to take care of them,” he said.

“Health-care workers aren't making policies, government is,” said NDP justice critic Nicole Sarauer. “These protests should be at the legislature, not at the hospital.”

“They could have safe zones around hospitals and health facilities, ensuring protests are held well clear of health care facilities.”

Zambory says SUN respects people’s democratic right to protest, but believes there’s a responsibility that comes along with that right.

“It is disgusting what they think that they can do, these protesters. It's disgusting that they think that they have the right to actually spit on health care workers going in, or demean individuals who are requiring important health interventions from going into the hospital. These people are despicable.”

Stempien says the protests, which he calls “ridiculous”, send a damaging message about health-care in the province.

But he’s seen several unvaccinated people change their tune after contracting COVID-19 and receiving treatment for it.

“The most people I see, when they're in the emergency department and quite unwell and are appreciative of the care they're getting, have a bit of buyers’ regret for not getting the vaccine,” he said.

The Ministry of Health and Saskatchewan Health Authority have not responded to a request for comment.