Alberta premier sticking with plan to train more nurses despite grim job outlook

EDMONTON — Premier Ed Stelmach is suggesting that Alberta’s nursing students have a bright future at the same time his own province’s health provider is predicting gloomy job prospects when they graduate.

EDMONTON — Premier Ed Stelmach is suggesting that Alberta’s nursing students have a bright future at the same time his own province’s health provider is predicting gloomy job prospects when they graduate.

Stelmach used his “Ask Premier Ed” Internet video on health care to say nursing grads will be needed in Alberta because he anticipates “a substantial number of retirements in the health industry.”

“We see this big baby boomer generation moving closer to retirement and we need well-trained, well-educated nurses,” he said in the 10-minute video posted to YouTube Tuesday.

“We are continuing on our overall goal of training 2,000 nurses by 2012. I’m very excited about the opportunity that nurses have in the province.”

But on another Internet site, Albertans got a very different message from the head of the agency that delivers health care services in Alberta.

The blog written by Stephen Duckett, chief executive of Alberta Health Services, warns that hospitals won’t likely be hiring a lot of nurses over the next couple of years as they continue with cost-cutting measures.

“I’ll not promise that there will be no compulsory layoffs, but we will be really trying to minimize them,” Duckett wrote. “Protecting our existing workforce though, comes at the expense of being very tight on recruitment.

“This in turn means that we are tight on recruitment of new graduates that are coming from schools of nursing.”

Duckett also wrote that only about two per cent of the province’s health care staff who are eligible for voluntary retirement have offered to leave their jobs.

NDP Leader Brian Mason says Stelmach’s remarks show he is out of sync with the head of his own health care delivery agency.

“Mr. Duckett is talking about the potential of laying off nurses,” said Mason.

“So for the premier to say we’re on track for training an additional 2,000 nurses means he either doesn’t know what’s going on within his own health care system or he’s spreading misinformation.”

Liberal health critic Kevin Taft says hundreds of nursing grads will likely have to leave Alberta to get jobs.

“It’s unfair to all those nursing grads and it’s a waste of taxpayers’ money to be training nurses by the hundreds who are going to be going to other jurisdictions,” Taft said in an interview.

Dozens of nursing grads held several protests this fall to say that Alberta is basically training nurses to work in other provinces and the United States.

“The public has a right to know that they’re funding nurses to work elsewhere,” said Quinn Grundy, a student who helped organize the rallies.

More than 1,000 graduate nurses will likely end up leaving Alberta because of the lack of job openings in the province, Grundy said.

Stelmach began posting the “Ask Premier Ed” YouTube videos earlier this week as part of the government’s attempt to harness social media. Many of the questions were submitted earlier by people on Twitter.

“I just encourage all young people that are enrolled in programs to continue.”

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