Sask. NDP releases memo telling hospital staff not to talk to elected officials

The Saskatchewan NDP says healthcare workers are being muzzled after employees at a small-town hospital were told in an internal memo not to speak with elected officials about their concerns.

The Saskatchewan Health Authority memo sent on February 7th was released by the Opposition and tells Lanigan Hospital staff not to coordinate tours or answer questions from legislature members or members of political parties.

“Please be advised that we are not to coordinate tours or answer questions about our facility to any political parties,” the memo reads. “If any MLAs or members of a political party request any information from Lanigan Integrated Hospital, please direct them to the process implemented to contact REDACTED. This goes through Central Coordinator. They have been advised of this process.”

The NDP said the memo was sent the same day party members were in the town southeast of Saskatoon as part of a tour to hear concerns about the state of health care in Saskatchewan.

NDP democracy critic Meara Conway said some constituents could only have their voices heard through the party.

“The idea that we can’t ask questions of front-line workers about their day-to-day experiences in our publicly funded healthcare system is offensive,” she said.

“The government isn’t silencing the Opposition party, who have a job and a role to play. They’re silencing the people of Saskatchewan, the people who rely on the healthcare system and the people who work in the healthcare system.”

Health Minister Paul Merriman said that the memo didn’t come from the Ministry of Health.

“We didn’t send the memo; it was sent by the SHA. Never directed from my office.”

Merriman also called the accusation of muzzling healthcare workers ridiculous.

“We are not muzzling any healthcare workers. There are healthcare workers all across this province that communicate with us on a daily basis, everyone from EMS to doctors in ER rooms, we meet with nurses, we talk to them, nobody has been muzzled.”

Merriman added that the Opposition is ‘torquing’ the memo.

“They are using language that was not in the memo, they are taking everything, and they are multiplying it by ten.”

NDP health critic Vicki Mowat said the Saskatchewan Party government had created an environment that politicizes decision-making and silences workers.

Mowat said there is a “culture of fear” in healthcare centres, and employees are afraid to speak about their concerns.

“I think what has changed is that we have a government that is so focused on limiting transparency and centralizing power so that all decision-making happens at that level,” she said. “It’s top-down, and people do not feel empowered to speak out.”

Mowat said NDP legislature members were able to meet Lanigan staff who were comfortable meeting off the hospital site. The party has also toured other health centres.

However, Mowat said she and her colleagues had been accompanied by ministry staff and sometimes a Saskatchewan Party member when they’ve toured other facilities.

Conway said such monitoring could put healthcare staff in difficult positions to speak openly.

“That’s consistent with what we see coming from this hush memo, which is increasingly surveillance and keeping tabs on what’s being shared with the public and the Opposition,” Conway said. “I’ve only been on one such tour, but it struck me that I was loath to sort of put anyone in that position in that context.”

Merriman said that they are listening to the concerns of healthcare workers.

“We are sitting down at the tables, in the coffee rooms, of the health care facilities, we are talking to nurses, we are engaging with them,” he said. “Healthcare workers are very open and engaged with us, sometimes brutally honest.”

with files from The Canadian Press

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