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Essential services workers consider alternate accommodations to protect their families

Could hotels become home to nurses in Alberta?
Heather Smith, United Nurses of Alberta president, said the union will be asking Alberta Health Services about access to hotel rooms for staff working with COVID positive patients. (File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Nurses and emergency service employees are looking at protecting their families against COVID-19 by having workers stay in hotels to reduce their exposure to the virus.

Brad Readman, president of the Alberta Fire Fighters Association, said some chapters have hotels on standby in case they need to self-isolate a large number of members who may have been exposed.

But Red Deer members, who include firefighters, paramedics and dispatchers, have so far remained with their families, with 21 self-isolating, he said.

More than 300 members across the province are in self-isolation, or 10 per cent of the workforce.

“We expect to see that number drop as the majority of those cases are due to travel, but we are now starting to see the number of symptomatic isolation cases increase,” said Readman, who is a Red Deer fire-medic.

Red Deer has 210 members, so staffing levels have so far been maintained, he said.


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Heather Smith, president of the United Nurses of Alberta, said providing hotel accommodations for staff concerned about exposing their families to COVID-19 was part of a discussion she had with other union representatives from across Canada on Tuesday.

She said British Columbia was already reaching out to hotels to provide free or low-cost accommodations to nurses. A large long-term care organization in Nova Scotia was also making accommodations available to nursing staff.

“They are doing incredible things in providing hotel rooms for staff working in those facilities with COVID positive patients,” Smith said.

“We don’t have anything yet, but we will be raising it with AHS and Covenant Health. There is a long list of things being raised with Alberta Health Services every day.”

She said health care workers have a higher chance of infection the more they are exposed to COVID patients, which was also why the UNA and other unions worked to get an agreement with Alberta Health Services and Covenant Health for risk assessments to be done for every patient interaction to ensure front-line staff have the protective equipment they need.

Other unions that are part of the agreement include the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees and Health Sciences Association of Alberta.

“We’ve had issues with attempts to hoard certain pieces of protective equipment,” said Smith. “What is imperative is that everybody is taking appropriate precautions.”

She said the recommended two-metre distancing has not happened in some of offices.

“We do have areas where workers are not told to work from home when they certainly could and should be. That’s being dealt with.”

Smith said providing hospital-laundered scrubs to nurses working where there are known COVID cases is another idea the nurses’ union will present to AHS.

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