“Alberta communities are facing a staffing crisis in their hospitals,” said Rachel Notley, Alberta NDP leader at the Centre 2000 in Grande Prairie last Thursday.
She said that health care staff shortages across the province have resulted in bed closures, emergency room closures and cancelled surgeries.
“This is real in our own local hospital there are 14 beds closed,” said Kerrie Mealey, United Nurses of Alberta (UNA) Local 37 president.
Mealey said that eight of the beds are post-surgical beds and that there currently are 14 empty registered nurse lines in the surgery ward.
The regular running capacity for the hospital operating rooms is six, but Mealey says, “on a good day, we are running four, and sometimes three if we don’t have the anesthesia staff.”
“How ridiculous it was to read that Minister Shandro walked into our community to tell the public our new hospital is going to be fully operational with 11 ORs on an opening day that is still yet to be determined,” said Mealey.
On July 19, provincial health minister Tyler Shandro was in Grande Prairie and announced two additional operating rooms for the new Grande Prairie Regional Hospital (GPRH).
The GPRH will have 11 operating rooms in total.
“If we can't staff the QEII and we can't staff our rural hospitals, we can't staff our homecare offices and our public health centres, and all the other services that are available in our communities, how are we going to staff that bright shiny new building,” said Jerry Macdonald, president of the United Nurses of Alberta Local 207.
Alberta’s finance minister Travis Toews told a full house in Beaverlodge last Thursday he also “has concerns about staffing” GPRH. Toews, Grande Prairie-Wapiti MLA, hosted town halls in Beaverlodge and Sexsmith last week, and was replying to a question about the AHS staffing shortage.
The UNA’s Macdonald, who toured GPRH “many months ago”, said that the layout is very different from the current facility (QEII).
“There's a lot more dispersal of patients because every room is a private room, so the nurses are going to have to really scramble to keep up and provide the appropriate care,” said Macdonald. “It's going to be a challenge to be able to staff that facility and still provide the care, given the staffing shortages we're experiencing.”
According to Notley, the UCP is planning to remove up to 11,000 frontline healthcare workers. Those “lucky enough” to keep their jobs are facing rollbacks in their pay, she added.
Nurses have been asked to take a three percent wage cut, among other cuts.
According to finance minister Toews, “Alberta nurses make 5.6 per cent more than in other comparator provinces.”
“You need to have the kind of working conditions and compensation mechanisms and other recruitment mechanisms to make it attractive for people to uproot themselves from wherever they happen to come from and move to communities in the north,” said Macdonald.
“They (UCP) thank us for our service through this pandemic, which contrary to what they would have us believe is not over, but they are not showing us their appreciation in any tangible way,” said Macdonald.
“Many Albertans believe that the government plans to crush and discredit our public health care so that they can ultimately replace it with their two-tier American system where the wealthy get to cut to the front of the line,” Notley said.
Jesse Boily, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Town & Country News