Nurses march outside Sturgeon
Layoffs and impacts on patient care on union's radar
By: Amy Crofts
| Posted: Saturday, Sep 21, 2013 06:00 am
Dressed in antiquated uniforms, a group of registered nurses rallied outside the Sturgeon Community Hospital Wednesday to bring attention to provincial layoffs.
Alberta Health Services announced a province-wide restructuring plan earlier this year that would redeploy nursing staff and increase the use of licensed practical nurses and nurses’ aides.
The union United Nurses of Alberta (UNA) sees the cost-cutting as a shortsighted decision that will put patients at risk.
“The biggest concern is replacing regulated members – not just RNs but also LPNs – with unregulated, unskilled health-care aides,” said Orissa Shima, president of the UNA's local 85 Sturgeon Hospital branch, which represents approximately 400 RNs.
“(They) are a valuable member of the team, but should not be replacing the work of regulated professionals.”
According to the UNA, 200 RNs have been laid off in Alberta over the last several months.
Although there haven't been any layoffs at the Sturgeon as part of the workforce transformation, Shima said there have been vacant job postings left unfilled or simply eliminated.
“For a site that always does more with less, it's concerning because we feel we can't afford any less than we have in terms of regulated professionals,” she said. “We work on the skinny as it is.”
Kerry Williamson, spokesperson for AHS said they are not reducing the overall nursing workforce. In fact, during the first quarter of this fiscal year the largest increase in AHS’ clinical workforce was in registered nurses with 471 new recruits.
Since 2010, the number of nurses (including LPNs and nurses’ aides) has increased by 13 per cent. AHS is actively recruiting more RNs as 307 positions have been recently posted.
The “workforce transformation” is instead a pilot project for a “new model of health care delivery” he said. Health care providers will work in teams, with patients and their families at the centre of the model.
The project is currently being piloted at the Royal Alexandra Hospital, the University of Alberta Hospital and the Medicine Hat Regional Hospital, with one medical unit and one surgical unit involved at each site. The first demonstration unit went live at the Royal Alex on Sept. 9.
Williamson said the vast majority of our nurses are unaffected by the pilot.
“This not a lay-off in the usual sense of the word – we work with nurses to place them in new roles in high need areas,” he added.
“Research tells us that when RNs work at their full scope of practice, patient outcomes improve.”
“The new model is going to ensure our RNs have the opportunity to put their education and skills to work by working to the full scope of their legislated practice.”
He said the units will be closely monitored and there is no specific end date.
Around 30 registered nurses joined the lunch hour “information” walk on Wednesday in their white uniforms. The old-fashioned dress made them stand out from everyone else in the hospital wearing scrubs.
“On some units it makes (patients) realize just how few registered nurses there really are when there's only one or two wearing white on a large unit,” said Shima.
She explained one of the purposes of the walk was to inform residents of St. Albert that the direction AHS is going in is of growing concern the nurses’ union.
“(We’re) concerned about the health of Albertans and they should be concerned about having less registered nurses at the bedside.”
Information walks were also held in Edmonton, Drumheller and Okotoks.