Health Minister Ron Liepert insists there is no hiring freeze for nurses at Alberta Health Services.
“What there is is a directive from the new CEO that before any hiring takes place in the organization, it is going to be approved through his office,” said Liepert, who spoke at the Red Deer Rotary Club luncheon at the Red Deer Lodge on Monday.
“If nurses are needed, they’re going to be hired.”
He said Alberta Health Service CEO Stephen Duckett has put in the new review process for hiring staff to deal with a lack of hiring accountability.
The province has been on the defensive since Friday, when the United Nurses of Alberta raised the alarm that Alberta Health Services had eliminated hundreds of nurse job postings on its posting site.
The union says some nurses are being forced to work overtime or denied vacation because jobs are not being filled. The union is filing grievances.
Liepert said the impact isn’t as bad as the union wants Albertans to believe.
Fewer new nurses are needed with more nurses either delaying retirement or moving into full-time positions, from part-time or casual, because of the recession, he said.
The College and Association of Registered Nurses of Alberta told him that 27 per cent of what nurses do on the job is non-nurse work and the review will help address this, he said.
“I think it’s a realignment of the workforce and at the end of the day it’s going to have the right people doing the job that they were trained to do.”
Jane Sustrik, second vice-president at United Nurses of Alberta, challenged Liepert’s comments.
A handful of nurses may be delaying retirement due to the recession. But more are staying on because of changes in some collective agreements, for example that allow them to spend time mentoring new nurses, she said.
“There are some retention strategies that we’ve got in place that are more appealing to some nurses to maybe stay in a little longer,” Sustrik said.
She also wondered how the full-time jobs Liepert that talks about are being filled.
“(Nurses) still have to apply to positions in order to do that and if (AHS) is postponing or cancelling or putting this chaotic review process in place, they’re not going to have the jobs to apply for.”
Sustrik said the lack of health-care staff overall means those who are left must do more. Nurses can’t get away from extra duties because other postings, like unit clerks and housekeeping, are going unfilled.