Alberta Union of Provincial Employees wants the province and Alberta Health Services to stop blaming hospital bed closures on staff vacations.
This summer acute and emergency bed closures at Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre, as well as in several other regions, have been partially blamed on vacations.
Susan Slade, AUPE vice-president, said AHS is in control of vacation schedules and is well aware before May 1 of who is on vacation and when.
“They’re blaming workers for being on vacation. There’s only a certain amount of staff allowed off on any given day. They keep blaming the front-line staff, when really they need to look at themselves.
“This is not a frontline staff responsibility. It is the government and Alberta Health Services and they need to recognize that and fix it.”
Six out of 370 acute care beds at Red Deer’s hospital have been closed since July 7 and are expected to re-open on Sept. 9. AHS said the closures were due to temporary staff shortages due to vacation, vacancies and ongoing recruitment.
Recently seven beds in the 46-bed emergency department reopened after vacant positions were filled. The beds had been closed since July 12 and AHS said they were opened on a rotating basis throughout the closure when staff were available, and have been all fully reopened as of Aug. 12.
Elsewhere in the region, AHS has given the same reasons for bed closures in Rocky Mountain House and Lacombe.
Six out of 31 acute care beds at the Rocky Mountain hospital have been closed since July 5 and should reopen Aug. 31.
Eleven out of 35 acute care beds at the Lacombe hospital were suppose to reopen Aug. 10, but will now remain closed until Sept. 3.
Slade said hospitals just don’t have enough workers on staff to keep the beds open.
“Red Deer always has a shortage of staff. Bottom line — they need to hire people. They are not hiring.”
AUPE said that in June, Health Minister Tyler Shandro began blaming summer-long rural hospital bed and emergency room closures on vacations. And as recently as Monday, AHS blamed the closure of Royal Alexandra Hospital’s Orthopedic Surgery Centre on staff vacations and an unexpected doctor shortage.
“There are people leaving the profession after many months of working and being so disrespected by both the employer and the government. I can’t blame them,” Slade said.
In a letter on July 30, Dr. Verna Yiu, president and CEO of Alberta Health Services said the shortages are temporary and were expected.
“Let us be clear — there is no bed shortage in Alberta. Our system is stable, safe, and available for any patient who needs it. If a patient needs a bed — whether it be in an emergency department, or on a hospital ward — a space will always be available,” she said.
“AHS is currently dealing with some temporary, short-term bed reductions at some of our hospitals. This was not unexpected, as we emerge from an unprecedented pandemic that tested our health-care system’s capacity and pushed our frontline teams to their limits. We will be dealing with the impacts of the pandemic for some time.”
On Wednesday morning, AHS announced that Sylvan Lake Advanced Ambulatory Care Service would be closed that evening, and for a few more days later this month, due to a gap in physician coverage.
Alberta Health Services said the centre will be closed Aug. 18 from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. The centre will also be closed from 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Aug. 21, 22 and 31.
AHS said the closures are temporary measures taken as a last resort.
Patients should either return during hours of operation, book an appointment with their family doctor, or call Health Link at 811 for medical information and advice.
Patients can also access medical care from facilities in nearby communities, including Rocky Mountain House and Red Deer.
Sylvan Lake Advanced Ambulatory Care Service offers diagnosis and treatment of urgent, but non-life-threatening conditions, seven days a week. These include sudden illness or injury that could be cared for in a doctor’s office but requires immediate attention.
Patients requiring emergency medical care are to call 911.