Sask. testing labs at 'breaking point' as COVID-19 testing rises: union
A nurse gets a swab ready at a temporary COVID-19 test clinic in Montreal, on Friday, May 15, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
SASKATOON -- The union representing more than 600 laboratory workers in Saskatchewan says it has "serious concerns" as the province ramps up the number of daily COVID-19 tests.
"Our members have made it abundantly clear that these health care systems are nearing a breaking point," SEIU West said in an open letter to Premier Scott Moe, Health Minister Jim Reiter and others.
“This is not merely because of the strains of coping with COVID-19, however the pandemic has made clear the damaging results of a decade of government neglect of our public lab sector and disrespect for its workforce.”
The union says health care and government leaders should not be making "unattainable promises" without first checking with the front line staff responsible for delivering them.
“Our members who work in Saskatchewan Health Authority lab services have been clear. For the last three years they have been reaching out to let the Minister of Health, their MLAs, and health care sector leaders know that they have too few resources,” President of SEIU-West Barbara Cape said in a news release.
The province has fewer lab personnel while the population has grown, and equipment and training needs have not been met, she said.
The union says that while Moe, the health ministry and Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) CEO Scott Livingstone have promised an increase in daily lab testing reports to 4,000 per day, there has been no meaningful consultation with the union’s lab members.
“These undertakings only increase the stress within our lab sector membership who are already stretched to the limits of capacity. It’s demoralizing to all lab services workers when leaders demonstrate no support and have no real understanding or connection with the front line,” Cape said.
“The public needs to know if COVID-19 testing takes priority, then other medical diagnosis will likely be delayed as there have been no new or added resources made available to do all of it in a timely fashion.”
Drive thru COVID-19 testing sites opened this week in Saskatoon and Regina.
The SHA said in an email statement that plans for expanding laboratory testing capacity include adding more than 50 full-time equivalents to laboratories in Saskatoon and Regina.
"This includes additional technologists, laboratory assistants and laboratory scientists. The SHA recognizes that technologist and assistant positions are currently considered hard to recruit," the statement said.
"While the goal is to fill those specific positions to ensure testing capacity goals are met, the SHA will explore other options for classifications if the initial recruitment for the new positions is not successful."