Alberta Health Services is invoking the emergency staffing provisions to address “additional pressures throughout the healthcare system,” specifically in the Edmonton and South zones, according to an email obtained by Global News and sent from Rick Mann, a labour adviser for AHS.
AHS will staff ICUs, emergency departments and other units of highest need next week through “further redeployments, as well as, including but not limited to mandating overtime and potentially cancelling vacations,” Mann said.
“While previous redeployment efforts largely focused on the COVID-19‐specific services such as contact tracing, Health Link and vaccinations, these efforts will now need to be utilized in other areas of the organization that are feeling pressure due to increasing occupancy, acuity and staff absences.”
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The Alberta Union of Provincial Employees says it got word late Friday and says the decision will affect both general support services and nursing care members.
This comes, the union says, after AHS failed to fix staffing levels in its health care centres.
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“It’s no surprise that they snuck this news into our inboxes late on a Friday,” says AUPE vice-president and LPN Susan Slade.
“You don’t ask your staff to do even more — to sacrifice even more — after telling them they deserve a four-per cent wage rollback.”
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Slade called the move “disrespectful” to health care workers.
“They feel like they’re being take for a ride — at 200 km/h down an icy highway with no brakes,” says Slade.
“And it’s not just GSS. Our nursing care members are also starting to crash because AHS refuses to bargain with them and provide the staffing levels and working conditions they need to succeed and look after patients.”
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The union also blames the province for contributing to the health care pressures.
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“It’s one thing for the boss to fall back on these contingency plans, which will upend our members’ lives, when they’re facing an emergency that’s out of anyone’s control. It’s quite another when the boss negligently caused the emergency.”
In light of rising COVID-19 hospitalizations, AHS told Global News Friday it currently has “adequate capacity” at hospitals and is carefully monitoring demand, in case it needs to increase the number of beds. AHS said the ICU is at 80 per cent capacity and 65 per cent capacity for COVID-designated beds.
“AHS currently has adequate capacity at our hospitals to provide care to those who need it,” spokesperson Kerry Williamson said. “We are carefully monitoring demand, however hospitalizations due to COVID-19 remain lower than waves 2 and 3.
“There are 198 people in hospital in Alberta with COVID-19, including 43 in ICU. This is significantly less than the 902 hospitalizations in early January, when the number of COVID-19 positive patients in hospital hit its peak.”
AHS said the use of redeployment has been part of its pandemic response.
“These terms of the collective agreement have been used at times when really necessary throughout the pandemic.
“It’s our responsibility to notify the unions prior to the use of any of the terms,” AHS said.
“We are doing all we can to avoid the use of mandatory overtime or cancelling of pre-approved vacation time.
“Discussion about the need to utilize these options to ensure staffing needs are met will occur at the local level with operational leaders, staff and union representatives,” said Melanie Veriotes, a senior communications advisor for AHS.
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