Prairie Post (West Edition)

Health care unions speak out on staffing shortage

- BY ALEJANDRA PULIDO-GUZMAN

Members of multiple health-care unions came together this week to demand that the government of Alberta develop a plan to deal with the current provincial crisis in health care.

Alberta’s health-care unions presented a letter to Health Minister Copping’s office, requesting an urgent meeting to discuss a plan to address the staffing crisis.

Leaders of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE), the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), the Health Sciences Associatio­n of Alberta (HSAA) and the United Nurses of Alberta (UNA) along with Friends of Medicare (FOM) are urging the newly-announced cabinet to deliver a comprehens­ive plan to fix the healthcare system which they argue has been thrown into chaos by short-staffing.

HSAA president Mike Parker said the healthcare system is in such crisis that they are no longer able to ensure that an Albertan needing care will get it in time.

“People are dying waiting for care; we are the experts, we care about every patient we see and we want to be there for them in their time of need, but we are struggling ” said Parker.

He said the problem will not be fixed by another reorganiza­tion of Alberta Health Services, or by firing people, or by more acts of privatizat­ion of our health care system.

“This stress caused by short staffing is causing mental injury to our members and impacting our ability to deliver patient care. This government needs to be doing more to improve working conditions, so that we can retain those profession­als we currently have,” said Parker.

He said they were joined together in insisting Health Minister Jason Copping meet them as soon as possible, so that they can talk about real solutions to the crisis in our health care system.

AUPE vice president, Sandra Azocar, said short staffing is an issue that has plagued our healthcare system for decades and was only exacerbate­d by the COVID-19 pandemic.

She said out of the 98,000 workers AUPE represents, 58,000 are frontline healthcare workers.

“In a time when we’re still reeling from the impact of a deadly pandemic, we have a premier that has indicated that she wants to transform our public health care system, and started this transforma­tion by creating havoc and further upheaval at a time when our health care system and healthcare workers are in need of support and real solutions,” said Azocar.

She said their members are trying their best to work within a system that is demanding they work in unreasonab­le and unsafe situations.

“We’re saying to this government and to our healthcare minister that they need to listen to frontline practical (advice) and organizati­onal knowledge. We know where the gaps are, we know what the solutions are, and we want to see a comprehens­ive plan to fix the healthcare system,” said Azocar.

UNA president, Heather Smith, said there should no surprise that the UNA is on board with an appeal to the minister of health since they represent 30,000 registered nurses and registered psychiatri­c nurses.

“We have this crisis of COVID-19 in the pandemic, and we certainly are continuing to work through that, because I just want to stress, it is not over. There are over 1000 people in hospitals across this province,” said Smith.

She said there is yet another crisis that has evolved, and that is a staffing crisis.

“What we are asking Mr. Copping to do is to meet with us representa­tives of workers, because it’s not just a crisis for registered nurses and registered psychiatri­c nurses it’s a crisis for workers across the continuum,” said Smith.

AUPE vice president, Bonnie Gostola, echoed Smith’s words by saying the crisis is hitting the province from many angles, not just short-staffing of healthcare workers.

“What we’re really trying to address here is the burden that is being placed on the frontline of healthcare, those individual­s who have suffered for two and a half years under COVID, but even prior to that,” said Gostola.

She explained that this was due to management placing workers in a situation that is not healthy, by allowing them to work short staffed.

“We have got to continue to demand more, not just for health care, but to really deal with the mental and physical drain that is happening to our health care workers,” said Gostola.

She said frontline staff is also facing the backlash of Albertans because they are the first person they see after waiting in an emergency department for 30 hours or more.

“That first person that they make contact with becomes the focus of their anger under frustratio­n, and this has to stop. We have to start addressing (what) every member in health care needs, to be treated with respect,” said Gostola.

UNA president Heather Smith summarized the solution with four R’s: Retaining the workforce already in place; getting those who left to Return; Respect the workforce and Recruit new workers.

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