REGINA – SGEU is concerned that Premier Scott Moe is endangering hundreds of workers, along with their families and Saskatchewan communities, by ignoring his own health officials’ advice about how to prioritize correctional facilities in the province’s COVID-19 vaccination plan.
In a January 14 report (see attachment) by the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA), correctional institutions were identified as “shared living settings” along with emergency shelters, group homes, and mental health residential care facilities. The SHA recommended that staff and residents within these vulnerable populations be given priority early in Phase 2 of the vaccine rollout.
The government’s vaccination plan released on February 9 prioritizes emergency shelters and group homes for those with intellectual disabilities, but contains no similar provision for correctional centres and young offender facilities.
“It’s unacceptable for the government to abandon correctional officers and staff working in young offender facilities in the vaccine roll-out plan,” said Barry Nowoselsky, chair of SGEU’s Public Service/Government Employment (PS/GE) bargaining unit, which represents provincial correctional staff. “These employees are essential workers who have no choice but to show up for work every day, where they put themselves at risk of contracting COVID-19 by simply doing their jobs.”
“Not only are the staff being put at risk, but this plan also jeopardizes the health and safety of their families and anyone they interact with in their home communities,” Nowoselsky added. “This reinforces the importance of placing a priority on vaccinations within correctional centres and young offender facilities, where it’s much more difficult to practice pandemic safety protocols due to the nature of the jobs.”
Advocacy groups, independent researchers, the union and staff working in these facilities have been calling for action by the government to help contain the spread of COVID-19 in correctional centres and young offender facilities. The recent SHA report and recommendations make it clear that even the government’s own health experts believe that correctional facilities are at a much higher risk for COVID-19 outbreaks.
The SHA report noted that in the two weeks leading up to January 4, correctional facilities accounted for 134 COVID-19 infections, representing 20% of cases with the most likely source of exposure identified. By comparison, long-term care facilities – where vaccination has been made the highest priority – accounted for only 40 people (6% of cases) infected over the same period.
“Premier Moe and his health minister claim to rely on medical advice when creating policies related to the pandemic, yet we have proof that the government has ignored the advice of their own health experts in the province’s vaccine roll-out plan,” said Nowoselsky. “This is a wrong-headed and dangerous approach, and leaves questions about who is really calling the shots when it comes to protecting the health and safety of Saskatchewan people.”
“The province has rightly planned for the early vaccination of staff and residents of long-term care facilities, and others in shared living settings,” said Nowoselsky. “However, it’s time for the government to admit they made a mistake and have needlessly put lives in danger by ignoring an important recommendation from their own health experts. It’s time for Premier Moe to prioritize COVID-19 vaccinations for correctional and young offender facilities to prevent further spread of the virus across Saskatchewan.”
For more information, contact:
Communications Officer, SGEU
Corresponding image by SriMesh. Cropped and published under Creative Commons license.