At this time of year, many of us make New Year’s resolutions to become healthier. This may involve shedding that extra 10 pounds, exercising at least three times a week, stopping smoking, cutting back on alcohol consumption, getting more sleep, or reducing stress by spending more time with family and better balancing work and home. Some of these resolutions are certainly on my list.

As a Health Region, we also set goals linked to our multi-year strategic plan and our annual budget. This year (April 2010- March 2011) we set aggressive targets to promote a healthier workplace, including reducing sick time and overtime among Health Region staff. We developed a Workplace Excellence strategy, based on our experience and leading practices from other organizations.

Although our strategy has not yet been fully implemented and we are continuing to refine it as we go, we are starting to see some impressive results. Across the Region, there appears to be a high level of awareness that this is a priority.

A big part of our strategy involves helping staff stay healthy. This includes promoting staff immunization, good hand hygiene and other infection prevention and control practices. It also includes providing training and equipment to reduce back injuries and helping staff who have been ill return to work.

Our recent accreditation survey notes the Region’s commitment to staff safety. It specifically mentions excellent working-alone strategies, the staff buddy system in community care and support to staff leaving sites in high risk areas. We also know that there are still many areas for improvement.

Another part of our healthy workplace strategy involves relying less on overtime, so staff do not become fatigued. We have made significant progress in some areas such as nursing where our vacancy rate has fallen dramatically, in large part due to our recruitment and retention strategies. In some other areas, even where there are not significant vacancies, we know that our staffing levels are inadequate.

So what are our results? I am very pleased to report that, as of November 30 2010 compared to the same period in 2009, our sick time hours were down 6.1 per cent (27,855 hours, equivalent to $799,000). On average, sick time utilization per full-time equivalent Health Region staff person was down 4.12 hours. This year we are not seeing huge variations in sick time utilization following special events such as the Grey Cup. Sick time is lower across all employee groups, with outstanding results in some departments such as Food and Nutrition Services which had 4,352 fewer sick time hours and the lab which had 2,924 fewer sick time hours. We can learn from those “bright spots’ which have had such success.

Our overtime rates have decreased dramatically – by 24.3 per cent, the equivalent of 48,254 hours and $2,878,000. This has been achieved even though our patient and service volumes remain high.

These results are a credit to managers and front line staff throughout the Region. We know that this has not been easy. We will need to continue to focus on managing sick time and overtime, especially since we anticipate that we will be given additional targets and funding reductions from the Ministry in 2011/12.
Although one of the main drivers for reducing sick time and overtime has been budget, it is much more than that. We want all Heath Region staff to be as healthy as possible. We want our talented, dedicated staff to be available to provide the best possible care to our patients, clients and residents.

I wish you all a happy and healthy new year.

Maura Davies
President & CEO
Saskatoon Health Region