Alberta needs its nurses

There’s little doubt that students currently studying nursing in Alberta will eventually be able to find jobs somewhere — but it appears a lot of them are going to have to leave the province.

There’s little doubt that students currently studying nursing in Alberta will eventually be able to find jobs somewhere — but it appears a lot of them are going to have to leave the province.

Top Alberta Health Services brass say they will hire fewer than 40 per cent of new registered nurse graduates.

So after Alberta taxpayers have shelled out millions of dollars to train these health professionals, states like Texas and provinces such as Saskatchewan are going to reap the benefit.

Does that make any sense?

It sure doesn’t when the baby boomers and older Albertans are going to need more and more care in the next few years.

Already, many hospitals in this province are short of staff, and you can bet in a few years that Alberta will be working hard to win back the nurses it is about to lose to other jurisdictions.

The provincial government needs to plan for the long term, not just tomorrow.

Meanwhile, Premier Ed Stelmach and Alberta Health Services chief executive Stephen Duckett can’t seem to get their story straight.

In a recent “Ask Premier Ed” Internet video on health care, the MLA from Vegreville said he expects many nursing jobs will be vacated by retiring baby boomers.

Duckett, on the other hand, says times will be “tough” for Alberta nursing grads in the next couple of years.

Health Minister Ron Liepert hints that new nurses had better not expect the good times of the past to continue.

“One of the things we’ve really developed a culture of in this province over the last 10 years is that once you graduate in health care, you automatically have a job,” he observed recently. “Not only do you have a job in the province, you have a job where you want to in the province, and that’s changing.”

It sure does seem like that’s changing, and that’s unfortunate.

We may soon be in a situation in which the young nurses here have fled to the United States and other Canadian provinces. And when the older nurses still working here do retire, there probably won’t be enough new Alberta grads to replace them.

Admittedly, the Alberta government is stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Health care accounts for about 40 per cent of government spending in this province and some economists fear it is headed toward 50 per cent.

So health spending probably does need to be reduced, and since wages make up such a big part of the cost, it’s surely not going to be an easy task.

That said, effectively opening the door for our nurses to go elsewhere, after training them here, is not the answer.

Mary-Anne Robinson, executive director of the College and Association of Registered Nurses of Alberta, says she expects some registered nurses currently working in Alberta to be laid off or offered voluntary retirement packages in the next 12 to 18 months. If that happens, look for overtime costs to skyrocket at Alberta hospitals.

Sickening, isn’t it?

Lee Giles is an Advocate editor.

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