Getting rid of 500 full-time registered nursing positions at Alberta’s 16 largest hospitals creates further staffing problems for Red Deer’s hospital, says the president of the United Nurses of Alberta.
The provincial government has announced plans to eliminate 500 nursing positions over the next three years. Factoring in job sharing, it’s estimated about 750 nurses will lose their jobs.
Union president Heather Smith said Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre was “one of the canaries” more than a year ago when nursing positions were going unfilled in its emergency department. That problem still exists elsewhere in the hospital, she said.
“We still have problems with having appropriate numbers of staff currently to meet needs. I have no idea how this announcement will specifically affect Red Deer Regional, but I would think some portion of that 500 full-time equivalents is going to be coming out of Red Deer,” Smith said.
Alberta Health Services, which is heading into collective bargaining with nurses next year, said in a letter to the union’s negotiator that jobs will be eliminated through attrition until the end of March.
After that, AHS will use all options available under the collective bargaining agreement.
To reduce costs, AHS may also contract out home care services, including nursing, palliative care and pediatrics; reconfigure services at some smaller sites; reduce or eliminate services; and close acute care beds as continuing care beds open.
“Every day across this province, there are overcapacity patients. We have higher demands than we have acute care ability, so the notion of closing acute care beds because we’ve got continuing care beds just doesn’t make sense,” Smith said.
She said nurses are being asked to take a three per cent rollback, while corporations get billions in tax breaks.
“It is misleading to the public to say the answer to health care funding is to have the workers pay for it.”
She said health care budgets have remained relatively flat in recent years, so front-line staff have felt the pressure to do more with less.
“If we wanted to talk about savings, they should estimate the real cost of volunteered, never-recognized overtime that health care workers in this province already put in.
“We have as much unpaid overtime as we have paid overtime in this province, so many nurses feel that they’ve already contributed incredibly.”
Smith said the government’s so-called blue ribbon panel used flawed evidence and only looked at expenses.
“Our real problem in this province is we have a revenue problem. If we want to have services that are safe in terms of staffing levels, then we have to pay for it.”