Nurses fight for local health care

United Nurses of Alberta set up information pickets by the High Prairie Health Complex as the UNA held a Day of Action across Alberta to share a several crises in the healthcare system. Standing left-right are, union members and supporters, UNA Local 17 (High Prairie) president Jan Robinson, Rudy Valenzuela, Jo Payou, Laura Tomkins, Justin Courter, Ashley Blatt, Ben Hendrickson, Margaret Hartman and Alice Cristobel.

Richard Froese
South Peace News

Nurses at High Prairie Health Complex set up information pickets Aug. 11 to share concerns about government action with health care.

Members of the United Nurses of Alberta held Day of Action across Alberta to send a message to the Alberta government on issues in the public healthcare system.

“Our main message is to motivate people to contact their local MLA and provincial government and tell them Alberta nurses deserve to be treated with respect,” says Jan Robinson, president of the UNA Local 17, which covers High Prairie hospital, acute care, emergency room and J.B. Wood Continuing-Care Centre.

“We hope our information pickets will encourage the public to support us in our struggle to achieve fairness.”

The UNA set up information pickets to draw attention to its current contract negotiations with Alberta Health Services which is calling for a 3 per cent rollback in wages, which when combined with other monetary rollbacks, equals a 5 per cent cut in wages.

That comes after several years of zero wage increases.

Pickets also pushed the issue of bed shortages in several hospitals.

“The north and rural Alberta have always been especially affected by staffing shortages,” says Robinson, who has worked at the High Prairie hospital for 40 years, mostly in the emergency department.

Hospitals in High Prairie, McLennan, Slave Lake and Peace River have all had to close beds and/or services because of lack of staff, she says.

“It is heartbreaking for us when we have to transfer our local residents to other facilities when we do not have beds available,” Robinson says.

“We well understand how difficult this is for our patients and their loved ones.”

She says the High Prairie hospital currently has seven full-time registered nurse positions vacant.

“We are fortunate local administration accesses all the resources available to them,” Robinson says.

“The AHS rural locum nursing program and agency nurses have been vital in meeting our local staffing needs.”

Hospitals, programs and services are being reduced or closed all over Alberta because of the lack of nurses, she says.

“In High Prairie, this is shown by the inability to reopen our operating room and obstetrical programs, causing women to travel outside of the community to support safe obstetrical service,” Robinson says.

“Although there is a dialysis unit that is being scheduled to be opened in fall of 2021, the current staffing crisis will impact the ability to support the unit and the population it serves.”

The obvious solution is to recruit and retain more nurses, she says.

“The best way to do that is with a contract which reflects respect and appreciation for the contributions made to Albertans healthcare every hour of every day by RNs and RPNs,” Robinson says.

She says the UNA is frustrated with the United Conservative government in negotiations.

“Our government unilaterally decided to call off bargaining due to the COVID-19 crisis despite three other provinces being able to reach settlements with their nurses ALL with wage gains, during the same time,” Robinson says.

AHS is demanding to eliminate 750 full-time RN positions regardless of record overtime hours being worked and province wide short staffing, she says.

Alberta’s nurses are exhausted and overworked from all the extra stress of working through the pandemic.

“This is our thanks from our current government…contract proposals which are so very disrespectful,’ Robinson says.

“The public has seen firsthand the hard work of nurses and we believe they would not support such a negative contract.”

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