A pair of unions are claiming that staffing shortages are causing strain on healthcare workers across Saskatchewan. And they said the staff at St. Joseph's Hospital in Estevan aren't immune to the effects of the shortage.

Saskatchewan Union of Nurses President Tracy Zambory said they've had "numerous conversations" with registered nurses at St. Joseph's about staffing levels.

"What they've been doing for us is reporting the high levels of stress and burnout," she said. "They're all being called back into work, and every stand-by shift, regardless of how exhausted they are. And really, this is a lot of the symptom of the underlying chronic short-staffing issues."

Zambory said this is the case across the province.

"Health human resource shortages are becoming a really significant issue - in some areas almost to a crisis level. Places like Redvers aren't seeing their emergency room being able to be opened again we're hearing until mid-January."

The opposition NDP in Saskatchewan called last week for the provincial government to come up with a plan to address recruitment and retention issues in healthcare.

They claimed the pandemic worsened staffing-shortage issues that already existed.

"The government needs to get serious about addressing a staffing crisis that has plagued Saskatchewan’s health and long-term care systems for over a decade," said Bashir Jalloh, president of CUPE 5430, in a release. "Some people thought the premier was finally acknowledging the staffing problem in the system when he promised to hire 300 additional CCAs during the 2020 election campaign but that commitment was watered down to 108 positions in the last budget. We know how to solve the crisis in health care staffing, and the government of Saskatchewan has the tools: Market supplements, better wages, and full-time permanent jobs."

St. Joseph's Hospital Executive Director Greg Hoffort said recruitment is always a challenge. But he feels the provincial government is doing enough.

"I think it'd be difficult to be critical to the province, or the health authority, to do more. I think these challenges are right across the country. I think if you looked at the numbers and the statistics across the country, I think you would find there's staffing challenges throughout. I personally think it would be erroneous to say the province isn't doing enough, or the health authority."

Zambory, who is from Stoughton, said the province and the industry need to look at whether there's enough training and recruitment happening, in order to fill more positions.

"Part of a robust health human resource strategy is looking at our education, looking at the [number] of seats. Do we have enough people to do the teaching? It's a whole great big strategy that has to be looked at in a long-term plan."

Hoffort said there are naturally going to be openings with a staff of around 270 people. He said with that many people, you're going to have people retiring fairly regularly, leaving for positions outside of the industry, taking internal positions, and moving to other communities. 

He said the industry having many different, specialized positions makes bringing hiring more challenging.

And he said they haven't noticed an increase in the number of people leaving or needing time off because of stress during the pandemic.

"We haven't had a noticeable increase on anything like that. There's not a lot of leaves due to stress. The pandemic and the requirements in healthcare that if you have COVID symptoms, whether you're positive or not, you have to be off for 48 hours after your symptoms are removed. That adds certainly to challenges, to meeting the staffing requirements on a daily basis. But that's just part of the business, and some of the challenge is related to staffing a facility our size."

Hoffort added that he's always impressed with the work done by the staff at St. Joseph's.