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SUN feels in strong position

Start negotiations with SAHO today

By ANNE KYLE
of The Leader-Post
and MURRAY MANDRYK
of Leader-Star News

The Saskatchewan Union of Nurses' (SUN) believes the Regina Health District's bed closures will strengthen its bargaining position with the Saskatchewan Association of Health Organizations (SAHO).

SUN, which resumes contract talks today, has been arguing SAHO and the health districts need to address the issue of nursing shortages at the bargaining table.

"The fact that Regina will close 64 hospital beds indefinitely because of the nursing shortage illustrates how critical the situation is," said SUN president Rosalee Longmoore.

On Monday the union launched a provincewide billboard campaign "keep the care in health care," to press home its message that employers have to improve working conditions and pay rates if they want to recruit and retain nurses.

"Working conditions for nurses are so stressful that nurses are literally walking away from nursing. Saskatchewan can't afford to lose any more nurses," Longmoore said.

If the province is going to keep nurses already working in the system and recruit new nurses, SAHO has to address the issue of the $9,000 wage disparity within the bargaining unit and improve working conditions, she said.

"The government, health districts and SAHO each claim that the other is responsible for acting on the nursing shortage, and so far no one has done anything, except close beds. If they don't act, this will quickly get worse," Longmoore said.

Negotiators were well aware of the nursing shortage before last week's announced bed closures, which has become a "very political issue," said SAHO president Arliss Wright.

While both sides are attempting to find creative solutions to recruit and retain nurses in Saskatchewan, Wright said, adding the province, in tandem with employers, have to look at ways of encouraging more people to pursue careers in nursing.

However, Saskatchewan Party leader Elwin Hermanson warns it is going to be difficult to fill those vacancies because of Saskatchewan's tarnished reputation in terms of providing health-care services and the way it deals with its nurses.

On Monday the health district began the process of temporarily closing 64 hospital beds to address safety concerns caused by a critical nursing shortage and to provide relief to overworked staff.

District spokesman Tonya Duffy acknowledged this temporary measure will create some hardships, but said the health district had no options.

"We're doing whatever we can to attract nurses here and fill the vacant staffing positions," Duffy said, explaining the beds will be reopened as staffing positions are filled.

But, the competition is stiff. Smaller districts are suffering as larger districts recruit nurses from rural Saskatchewan with the offer of full-time work, Liberal leader Jim Melenchuk said.


Titanic survivor to attend Regina event

By WILL CHABUN
of The Leader-Post

She passed up a chance to mingle with the Royal Family at the British premiere of director James Cameron's movie Titanic.

And she declined a chance to fly to Germany to meet Cameron, plus stars Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio -- saying the latter was "cute -- but not that cute!"

But Millvina Dean, youngest living survivor of the Titanic's 1912 sinking, has accepted an invitation to come to Regina.

This seemingly tireless British woman, who turns 87 today, will be guest of honour at one of the most imaginative charity fund-raisers here in years: a lavish re-creation of the last meal on the Titanic.

Proceeds from this event, to be held May 28, go to Saskatchewan Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services Inc. (SDHHS), a non-profit organization with offices in Saskatoon and Regina. It specializes in helping the 12 per cent of Saskatchewan residents who are deaf or hard of hearing by offering new technology for sale or rent, plus counselling, job-finding help and education.

The "honourary captain" will be ex-Reginan Wayne MacDonald, whose Edmonton house is crammed with historical material on the luckless liner.

Explaining why the Titanic haunts us still, MacDonald identifies the frightening notion of technology gone wrong.

The big White Star liner was high-tech -- powerful, supposedly unsinkable and equipped with a newfangled wireless radio.

Today, we are even more reliant on technology often billed as "fail-safe", too.

"As a result, I feel that it's a metaphor for us in terms of us surviving this technology in the modern world," said MacDonald.

The site will be the Hotel Saskatchewan, where there will be not one, but two levels of festivities.

On its convention level, you can simulate a first-class passage on the Titanic, with a captain's reception, dancing and a replica of its last meal.

Downstairs on the main floor will be a "steerage party" duplicating the ship's third-class rooms, "for those who want to participate in Celtic music and beer," said SDHHS executive director George Thomas, decked out in a T-shirt and sailor's hat for the news conference announcing the event. Tickets cost $112 each or $812 for a corporate table.

"The entire convention floor will be like a ship," hotel manager Hermann Schaad added. "I think it will be an incredible evening, something that will not be repeated in Regina ever again."

For what Thomas smilingly called "survivors" -- plus those on a budget -- Saturday, May 29 brings a champagne brunch, also at the Hotel Saskatchewan. It costs $30 for adults, plus $12 for children. Tickets are available from the SDHHS at 352-3323 or 1-800-565-3323.

When a similar event (for childrens' charities) was held last spring in Red Deer, Alta., more than 400 "passengers" decked themselves in gowns and tuxedoes.

Survivor Dean attended that one, too -- plus events in Europe and the U.S. including the opening of a Titanic museum in England.

Ironically, Dean didn't know she was a Titanic survivor until her mother casually mentioned it eight or nine years later, says MacDonald.

The Dean family's story was tragic -- and had several twists.

Millvina, her mother Hattie, father Bertram and brother Bertram Jr. (then 22 months old) were bound for Wichita, Kansas, where Bertram Sr. had kin and planned to buy a tobacco shop.

The family was brought to the Southampton docks by Millvina's aunt and grandfather -- both of whom accepted an invitation to tour the ship.

Somehow, the two elder Deans missed a call to leave. "Next thing they knew, the Titanic was moving," Macdonald says.

The two Deans left the ship when it dropped off the pilot in the English Channel. When the ship began sinking four days later, Millvina's father was drowned. Hattie and her children were rescued by the liner Carpathia, which took them to New York. After a month, they returned to Britain on the Oceanic.

Only three months old, and Millvina was the youngest of the 705 survivors.


FSIN battling debt

By TREVOR SUTTER
of The Leader-Post

The Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN) has a plan to help the province's First Nations dig out from a $70-million debt, according to a confidential report obtained by The Leader-Post.

But it will need a number of "political commitments" from the federal government in order to succeed, the report says.

The plan comes from a task force, called the Debt Issues Working Group, set up by the FSIN Chief's Office in October 1998. It calls for the province's 71 First Nations to be debt-free before the federal government proposes a new fiscal relationship.

That will be a monumental task, according to the confidential discussion paper tabled at a chief's assembly last month.

"The fact that two-thirds of the First Nations are carrying some degree of debt indicates that a major 'surgical strike' is required between now and prior to the beginning of the next fiscal year to remedy the situation," the report says.

It shows 41 Saskatchewan First Nations are in remedial management plans, which means their short-term debt exceeds eight per cent of their annual budget. Another eight bands are under co-management and four others are under third-party management as a result of a large debt load the band couldn't manage.

About one-third of Saskatchewan bands are debt-free.

"There are obviously a small group of major 'hot spots' and a larger number of smaller indebtedness situations of varying range/scope," the report says.

The report cites "arbitrary federal budget restrictions" over the past four years as a major cause of the current debt situation. It says federal government spending on First Nations hasn't kept pace with Indian population growth or cost of living increases.

"The result has been an accumulating debt situation, particularly for First Nations having a large on reserve population," the report says.

The problem, it says, is compounded by federal off-loading to the province, which has reduced the number of services paid for by Ottawa.

Among its several recommendations, the report calls on Indian and Northern Affair Canada (INAC) to retroactively bring spending in line with actual costs and population growth, correct the disparity in spending among regions and consider a debt forgiveness program for extreme cases.

"There was never enough money there in the first place -- that is part of the problem," said FSIN Chief Perry Bellegarde, who was meeting with federal officials in Ottawa on Monday.

The report is also critical of some band financial practices, such as borrowing against land claim settlements, giving loans and advances to band members, denying financial accountability to band members, investing in capital projects they can't afford to operate or maintain, and lacking the political will to maintain caps on salaries, travel and honorariums.

"We need the proper resources in place and a proper system of financial management before we enter into a new fiscal relationship with the federal government," Bellegarde said. "The work we are doing is fundamental."

The report recommends Ottawa, the FSIN and tribal councils take joint action to provide professional develop for First Nation financial officers, develop a "needs-based" funding formula for First Nations financing and organize a round table forum with financial institutions.

It also says banks that apply "excessively high" interest rates on First Nations loans and allow bands to borrow beyond their financial capability are partly to blame for band indebtedness.


From pages A1, A2 & A3 of The Leader-Post, Tuesday, February 2, 1999

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