Mandryk: Livingstone departure may be foreshadowing bigger problem

Mandryk: Livingstone departure may be foreshadowing bigger problem
© Provided by Leader Post Former Saskatchewan Health Authority CEO Scott Livingstone’s departure is a problem on many levels.

Former Saskatchewan Heath Authority CEO Scott Livingstone isn’t exactly just another SHA staff member. But he may represent a problem that Premier Scott Moe’s Saskatchewan Party government now has with its health staff.

For whatever lip service the government has paid to how much it appreciates the dedication and sacrifice of health-care providers during this COVID-19 pandemic, the overall message workers have received is that their work — or at least, their views and opinions on how we might end this entire health-care mess — is considered not all that worthwhile  … or at least secondary to economic and political considerations.

This has been most evident in letters from doctors and even the government’s own medical health officers that have been disregarded by career politicians who have no health-care expertise themselves. Far worse, doctors have been misrepresented by career politicians who debased valid, professional advice with dishonest rhetoric about doctors wanting to kick kids out of school.

Maybe the problem is that we’re ignoring the ones with seven years medical school expertise and listening to the ones whose expertise is in picking the right party and riding in which to run.

Such government disrespect for “the help” now seems a common complaint — one muttered by everyone from the lowest aides to those at the very top.

We don’t know the exact circumstances that led to Livingstone’s rather abrupt resignation from the SHA while this pandemic rages on, but it’s a massive understatement to say it’s a less-than-ideal time to suddenly lose the chief health administrator.

Even less helpful is a government signalling this is just another easily replaceable cog.

“This is a staffing matter at the Saskatchewan Health Authority,” Moe told reporters Thursday, adding he wasn’t about to discuss HR matters in this case or other cases.

Accepting that Moe doesn’t actually know the circumstances behind the departure, it was still odd for the premier to describe this man who he sat beside during press conferences the past two years as a “staffing issue” or an “HR matter.” Others might call it insulting.

This is the SHA CEO — a position that rightly commands twice as much salary as the premier. This is the person who’s led the health-care operational system for the entire province, through the most challenging conditions imaginable. That would include the SHA’s preparedness and ability to meet targets like those for vaccination rates set out by the government. Livingstone appears to have met all such Herculean tasks.

We know from those press conferences that Livingstone was always forthright (and, ultimately, spot-on accurate) about the potential of the health system becoming swamped. We also know the SHA consistently recommended restrictions, even as the government was removing them.

This is not to imply this has had anything to do with Livingstone’s departure. Again, we don’t know why he’s leaving.

But it is to suggest that recruiting a qualified, permanent replacement will be that much more difficult, given the government is sending out a less-than-subtle message that applicants may not have all the authority they need to run this authority.

This is about overall structure of the health-care system. And maybe it’s a little about how the “staff” views how they are perceived … especially after seeing how the head staff member was treated.

By no small coincidence, we saw in Livingstone’s latter days the creation of the Provincial Emergency Operation Centre to deal with issues like out-of-province ICU transfers that the former CEO had predicted could happen if SHA recommendations weren’t followed. Problematically, much of PEOC’s duties overlapped with Livingstone’s.

Also by no small coincidence, Moe addressed Livingstone’s situation moments after the NDP Opposition introduced ordinary rural health-care workers who simply wanted to tell the government they are “drowning”  in this pandemic. There’s that theme again: Disrespected and ignored.

If Moe truly doesn’t know the reasons for Livingstone stepping down, he ought to find out.

Maybe it’s similar to why doctors, nurses and others say they’re frustrated.

This might not be an isolated “staffing issue.”

Related

  • Mandryk: Latest COVID-19 approach opts for cajoling over hectoring
  • Mandryk: Sask. Party government picking petty and unnecessary fights

Mandryk is the political columnist for the Regina Leader-Post and the Saskatoon StarPhoenix.

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