The nurse shortage in Rocky Mountain House that closed six acute care beds is not unique, says the United Nurses of Alberta president who worries that the situation may only get worse in rural Alberta.
“Unfortunately the last many months have taken a huge toll on the nursing workforce. Rural sites in particular get severely disadvantaged,” Heather Smith said.
“Rocky Mountain House has always been sort of a tender place in terms of being able to balance recruitment and retention. Unfortunately it has been totally ignored in the last several months.”
On Sunday, Alberta Health Services announced that acute care beds at Rocky Mountain House Health Centre were being reduced to 27 from 33 for about a month due to a temporary shortage of registered nurses and licenced practical nurses.
AHS has said patient care will not be affected since the site still has sufficient capacity for additional patients.
Smith said rural hospitals like Rocky have difficulty attracting and retaining nurses to maintain adequate staffing, including mentors for new graduates, and face other support deficits.
“This is the place where they had to fundraise to replace toilets,” she said in reference to Rocky Health Foundation’s Flush 2020 Away campaign to raise $20,000 for 20 toilets for the emergency department, lobby and acute care department.
She said AHS has refused to develop a locum nurse program in central Alberta to fill empty positions even as nurses face burnout working through the pandemic. At the same time, the province has made it clear it is determined to eliminate jobs and reduce compensation.
“You’re being basically told you have less value today than you had a year ago. It’s pretty hard to take. I think we’re going to see a lot more people question whether they really want to stay in Alberta. It’s not just a matter of new graduates. We may see a lot of people exercise options they have in terms of retiring.
“There comes a point when somebody says no, this is not right for patients, this is not right for me, and I don’t have to take it. Nobody wants to risk a patient’s life.”
Smith said there were staffing shortages going into COVID. While rural hospitals can attract graduates, many will move on to larger communities when given the chance.
“Will they stay in the province at all? Will they stay in the country at all? They write the same exams to practice in the States now.”