04/14/2014 06:54 EDT | Updated 06/14/2014 05:59 EDT

Saskatchewan nurses say they're being intimidated over Lean program

REGINA - Saskatchewan's health minister is contacting health regions to find out if nurses are being punished for voicing concerns about a program that looks for ways to reduce spending and streamline health care.

Dustin Duncan says he has not heard about nurses being sent to time-out rooms at training seminars for the program called Lean.

"There's a lot of give-and-take in terms of what peoples' ideas are used and ... not everybody's ideas can be used. And so I have heard the reference that by Wednesday of the five-day event, that's when people can be upset because maybe not all their ideas have been used," Duncan said Monday.

"But never to the point where somebody's been told to sit in a time-out room. That's pretty juvenile."

Duncan says he has already confirmed that the Saskatoon and Regina Qu'Appelle health regions did not use time-out rooms. He's waiting to hear back from other health regions.

The Opposition raised the issue in question period Monday at the legislature.

The NDP says it has heard that nurses who don't like Lean are put in a time-out room and that they're being monitored on social media.

"When we have the nurses saying that they have been afraid to speak out, when they identify concerns about having their social media accounts, Facebook or Twitter monitored, that is very troubling," said NDP Leader Cam Broten.

"And this talk of a time-out room for those who are raising concerns around Lean, that is shocking and that is unacceptable."

The Saskatchewan Union of Nurses says nurses have felt intimidated. The union said last week that it wants the government to protect nurses from recrimination.

Duncan says deputy minister of health Max Hendricks sent a letter to nurses Monday. The letter tells the union that any worker "who raises concerns about patient safety or the Lean management program will not be penalized."

Duncan also says the Public Interest Disclosure Commissioner will meet with health regions to discuss whether health workers should be covered by whistleblower legislation.

Lean was originally created in the manufacturing sector, but has since been applied to many other sectors and industries.

Saskatchewan is the first jurisdiction in Canada to apply the Lean program across its entire health system.

The Saskatchewan government is paying $40 million over four years for the program. However, Premier Brad Wall has defended Lean, saying it has already paid for itself with savings on two new hospital designs and with ways to reduce wait times.

The nurses' union has said that it hoped Lean concepts would be effective, but it's been disappointing. Union president Tracy Zambory said the program does nothing to address patient safety.