Nurses at Red Deer’s hospital are burning out as activity gets back to normal and more patients seek treatment, says a local union president.
Sue Beatson, president of Local 2 of the United Nurses of Alberta, said the pre-COVID problem of jobs going unfilled, or not filled on a permanent basis, has returned, and nurses are concerned about patient care and nurse safety.
“We’re seeing many vacant positions filled by current nurses, whether it’s overtime, or picking up additional shifts. We’re seeing burnout.
“The nurses are tired. It affects their work-life balance. It affects their mental health. It affects their injury and sick rates,” said Beatson, a nurse at Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre.
“In essence, we don’t have enough nurses to do the work that’s required.”
She said Alberta Health Services was well prepared and did an incredible job handling the pandemic in the initial months, when the hospital’s patient load was way down because people were not seeking care.
The union is meeting with senior administrators, and hopefully, a resolution can be found for the current staff shortage, she said.
“Due to the lack of permanent positions, we’re seeing new nurses going to where they can get permanent positions,” Beatson said.
AHS said Tuesday it is aware of the concerns and is trying to address staffing issues at the hospial.
“Recruitment efforts are ongoing to help maintain and stabilize staffing levels. We are working to fill full- and part-time vacancies and our teams are moving through the hiring process as quickly as possible, especially in critical areas,” AHS said in an email statement.
“We also continue to recruit casual staff to ensure adequate coverage is available in the event of staff illness or absence, and additional job postings will be online as quickly as possible.”
AHS added it has directed resources to high areas of demand during the pandemic.
“Given the ongoing demand, AHS approved a workforce strategy which will see staffing resources directed to high-demand areas such as contact tracing, so we are better able to support these surges,” it said.
“AHS will also utilize a combination of redeployment and temporary recruitment to help ensure Albertans continue to receive the care they need.”
David Harrigan, the nursing union’s director of labour relations, said Red Deer hospital, particularly the emergency department, has been reluctance to post job vacancies.
“It’s been a long-standing problem. It doesn’t really make sense. In the short term, I can see they think it saves money. But in the long term, paying people overtime, rather than paying people straight time, does not save you money,” Harrigan said.
He said AHS also has a tendency to post any jobs as temporary, saying it doesn’t know what’s going to happen in the future.
“One would think during a pandemic, you’d do everything you could to try and keep your staff, and keep them from being over stressed.”
Late last year, the provincial government 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.
In the spring, the pandemic put a temporary halt to contract negotiations between the province and the union.
Hannigan said a letter of understanding that prevents layoffs expires Oct. 15. Negotiations were also on hold until that date.
“Our bargaining team met yesterday and we’re going to be writing to AHS today to say let’s sit down and start negotiations again.”