I recently returned from an extended vacation in Prince Edward Island, where I had a wonderful time reconnecting with family and friends. As well, the time off gave me a chance to relax, rest and recharge after a very busy spring. I hope that many of you also were able to take a well deserved break over the summer.

Vacations are a reminder of the importance of maintaining an appropriate balance between work and home. For many of us, maintaining a healthy balance is a challenge as the demands of our work consume many hours of our day and take their toll on our physical and mental well-being. As an employer, Saskatoon Health Region has a responsibility to help our 13,000 staff and 850 physicians maintain a healthy balance between work and home. As individuals, we all have a personal responsibility to do so as well. In my own life, there have been times when I’ve been unable to take my allotted vacation and I’ve been challenged to maintain that work-life balance.

The question of balance has also been at the heart of recent discussions related to overtime in our Region. In the past, due mainly to staff shortages, we have often asked staff to work extra hours to meet the needs of our patients, clients and residents. In some departments and units, this has become the norm to a degree that is neither sustainable from a financial perspective nor healthy from a work-life balance perspective. Fortunately, we have made significant gains in recruiting and retaining staff in many departments where there is now less need for overtime. As well, efforts to reduce workplace injuries, do a better job of staff scheduling and manage overtime are starting to have positive results.

Between April 1 and July 31, 2010, we have significantly reduced the amount of paid overtime compared to the same period last year. This reduction amounts to 26,150 hours or 27 per cent. We know that some departments like home care are still struggling with excess overtime due to staff shortages and we need to do better. In many departments, we are also pursuing different ways of working to be more efficient and reduce the demands on staff. For example, some departments are increasing the use of technology and streamlining work processes.

A health organization of this size and complexity will always have some overtime. Overtime allows us to meet patient needs when we have staff shortages due to vacancies and sick time, or when the number and complexity of our patients requires more people on the job. It is a question of balancing use of overtime with prudent spending of our dollars. Overtime is an expensive way to provide services. We also need to balance operational needs with helping staff work a reasonable number of hours to provide safe care and maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Several professional bodies have recently emphasized that individuals also have a responsibility to limit their hours of work to maintain personal health and provide safe care. Some staff want to work extra hours and regularly offer to do so. They may wish to maintain their clinical skills in areas other than their normal area of practice. They may also wish to supplement their incomes. We appreciate that some staff are willing and able to work overtime. As an organization, we need to do a better job of monitoring and ensuring that we do not place unreasonable demands or expectations for staff to do so, especially when the number of hours worked may compromise safe care.

I welcome your thoughts on this important issue. Are we doing enough to help you maintain reasonable balance between work and home? How can we do better?