ST. PAUL - A group of nurses and other health care workers took to the street on Wednesday in St. Paul as part of a provincial Day of Action organized by the United Nurses of Alberta.
"The main message is that the system isn't working the way it is right now. We're closing hospital beds because there's just not enough staff. There's not enough nurses, there's not enough doctors," says Jillian Loe, a representative with UNA who was part of the group of nurses in St. Paul picketing, Aug. 11.
The group gathered at the St. Paul Health Care Centre, and eventually worked their way to main street where vehicles honked in support of the cause.
"We've just been through 18 months of very stressful times, very difficult times in the health care setting," says Loe. The current situation has made nurses feel like they aren't needed anymore.
"Beds are closing because hospitals are short of nurses. This is because of the pandemic burnout and a long history of under staffing nurses," according to the UNA. "The roll backs proposed by the government are an insult to nurses and won't help Albertans recruit and keep health care workers, which is what we need to keep hospital beds open."
When asked what the current work environment is like for local nurses, Loe says they are often working short staffed, and "the morale is very low," and "We're experiencing a lot of stress."
Loe says nurses would like the public to understand that the primary goal is "patient safety. It's about patient care," adding, patients are the ones who ultimately aren't being served.
When asked why the issue of being short staffed exists, Loe says there are "empty lines," and positions that aren't being filled. "That's why there are shortages." The issue is not simply nurses taking holidays. Vacation time has not been an issue historically, she adds.
Attracting nurses has generally been more difficult in rural areas, but right now it is especially tough since many health care workers are feeling burned out, and there are even some staff talking about getting out of the health care system altogether.
While UNA hosted the Day of Action, the organization also invited the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) and Health Sciences Association of Alberta to take part. Loe noted that all members of the public were invited to join the nurses on Wednesday.
Closures across the Lakeland
Loe has been working at the St. Paul hospital since 2007 and says this is the first time she's experienced bed closures.
According to the online Alberta Health Services (AHS) map showing temporary facility closures, the St. Paul hospital has 10 out of 42 acute care beds closed, due to "Temporary staff shortage due to vacation, vacancies, ongoing recruitment."
In Elk Point, the healthcare centre is continuing to experience a reduction in operations at its emergency department. The facility has no onsite physician Tuesdays and Thursdays.
At the Cold Lake Healthcare Centre, five out of 24 acute care beds are currently closed. And in Lac La Biche, eight out of 23 acute care beds are temporarily closed. The reason stated is the same as what is noted for St. Paul.
In response to the Day of Action, Minister of Treasury Board and Finance Travis Toews issued a statement Wednesday morning.
“Our government is truly appreciative of the hard work and dedication that health care professionals – especially nurses – have shown over the last 18 months," said Toews. “We respect the rights of all Albertans to express their opinions on matters important to them."
Toews says the provincial government has been urging both AHS and UNA to work toward a new collective agreement that will bring long-term labour stability to the health care system.
“Last week, AHS proposed informal mediation to UNA, in an attempt to move towards a settlement agreement. Unfortunately, union leadership declined the offer," said Toews. “Many previous settlements have been reached in mediation. In the past 21 years, seven of the eight collective agreements between AHS and UNA have been reached with the use of a third party mediator."
He added, "The reality is that Alberta spends more money per person on health care than other large provinces, and this can’t continue. We are facing a $93 billion debt, and we spend more than half of the province’s operating budget on public sector compensation."
Toews said the Government of Alberta must continue to find efficiencies "across the public sector – it’s an essential piece to restoring fiscal health and ensuring sustainable public services."
According to the UNA, "Money is not the only issue in these talks. They want to roll back provisions that nurses have had for decades, including a very important rule that a Registered Nurse or Registered Psychiatric Nurse is in-charge of Nursing Units... Nurses want to be able to focus on safe patient care."
Information walks were also held in Brooks, Calgary, Camrose, Claresholm, Drayton Valley, Edmonton, Fairview, Fort McMurray, Grande Prairie, High Level, High Prairie, Jasper, Lamont, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, Peace River, Red Deer, Stony Plain, Strathmore, Ponoka, Wainwright, Westlock and Whitecourt.
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