Nurses angry at ‘excessive spending’ used to dismantle health boards

Nurses are fuming that the Alberta government is cutting the health budget, especially after the auditor general criticized the province for excessive salaries, pensions and bonuses at the now dismantled Alberta health boards.

CALGARY — Nurses are fuming that the Alberta government is cutting the health budget, especially after the auditor general criticized the province for excessive salaries, pensions and bonuses at the now dismantled Alberta health boards.

Auditor General Fred Dunn says when nine health boards were amalgamated into one superboard under Alberta Health Services last year, 30 senior executives terminated in the move received severance payments totalling $18 million.

Dunn’s office found Alberta Health Services did not have a clearly defined process for negotiating, reviewing, and approving some severances, citing mathematical errors and the use of the wrong contracts to determine termination benefits.

Bev Dick, vice-president of United Nurses of Alberta, said it’s “obscene” that health officials received excessive payouts and the system is now cash-strapped.

She said now the province finds itself in a huge deficit and she said the government wants to “fix that deficit on the backs of Albertans.”

Last month, AHS detailed plans to close as many as 300 acute-care beds in Calgary and Edmonton over three years, while creating 800 community living spaces for patients.

The move is expected to save about $50 million because acute-care beds are far more expensive to operate than nursing home-style beds.

Further cuts to the system are expected as the province grapples with a sluggish economy.

“It’s obscene to think there’s people that have reaped huge bonuses and increases and then we’re looking at any kind of reduction in services in the health-care system,” said Dick.

“It’s scary darn stuff to think of what else is going to have to be chopped to make up that shortfall all the time other people were living high on the hog.”