With one in four Albertans unable to access primary health care, the union representing nurse practitioners say its members can do more to fill in the gaps.
But with wages frozen for nearly a decade, members need to make up a lot of ground.
For about a year, Alberta nurse practitioners (NPs) have been negotiating their first agreement with Alberta Health Services and Covenant Health.
David Froelich, labour advisor with the Alberta Union of Nurse Practitioners, said negotiations were put on hold by the employers due to the provincial election, and now with Alberta’s wildfires. But before that, the employers walked away from mediated talks in February.
“Whoever forms the next government, we’re here to continue the dialogue and get health care back to where it should be,” Froelich said.
“We are here and we think we can help.”
Across Alberta, there are about 500 NPs employed by AHS and Covenant Health.
He said in a recent poll 75 per cent of members voted 97.6 per cent against the most recent proposals from employers.
NPs in Alberta are health professionals with either a master’s or doctorate degree who can assess, diagnose, treat and manage chronic illness the same way a physician does.
“There’s a lot of communities in and around Alberta where nurse practitioners are the only provider of primary care or health care of any sort,” Froelich said.
He said NPs can also ease the strain on hospitals by triaging patients in emergency departments and working with patients brought in by EMS to reduce ambulance wait times.
“We’re certainly advocating that NPs be used more frequently and more extensively because it’s a very efficient, cost-effective way of delivering effective health care.”
In 2003, Alberta’s Progressive Conservative government excluded NPs from the Alberta Labour Relations Code which precluded them from collective bargaining. But after a recent, successful charter challenge, they were reinstated into the Regional Health Authority Collective Bargaining Regulation.
Froelich said despite unfair wages over the last 20 years, the number of NPs has grown in Alberta.
“They are as most health care professionals are, a very dedicated group of people who believe in what they’re doing and feel the need to do it even though they may not be fully compensated. They go the extra mile.”
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