Red Deer emergency department experiencing nurse shortage

The Red Deer Regional Hospital Wednesday, March 16, 2015.
The Red Deer Regional Hospital Wednesday, March 16, 2015. Pat Carroll, Global News

The nurses’ union doesn’t believe a nursing shortage at the Red Deer Hospital will be resolved without hiring more staff, despite Alberta Health Services’ statements.

On Saturday, AHS told Global News some patients have had to wait longer than usual and that the shortage was expected to be resolved on Sunday. While the shortage was still an issue on Sunday, AHS said the situation had improved from a day earlier. The shortage was expected to be resolved by Monday, according to an AHS spokesperson.

AHS said the hospital is pulling nurses from other departments with surpluses to the emergency to help make up the shortage.

READ MORE: Red Deer doctors demand access to life-saving procedure in central Alberta

In some incidents where non-critical patients are being brought in by EMS, they might be transferred to medical centres in Innisfail and Ponoka.

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On Sunday, an AHS spokesperson said if non-critical patients arrive at the Red Deer Hospital, they will not be turned away. They also said the nursing shortage is a result of vacant temporary positions not being filled and staff movement (eg. nurses moving to other facilities or departments).

However, the nurses’ union disputes AHS’ claims.

On June 19, it filed a formal grievance, saying the critical staffing shortages have been an issue for two years.

“This is not a problem caused by a cluster of vacations, but by chronic understaffing at this facility over a long period of time,” United Nurses of Alberta (UNA) Labour Relations Director David Harrigan said in a news release Monday.

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“UNA has been attempting to resolve this staffing crisis in Red Deer for more than two years. We felt we had no choice but to file a formal grievance under our collective agreement to resolve both patient safety concerns our members have and the workplace stress chronic understaffing is causing.”

The grievance claims AHS has failed to post vacancies in the Red Deer Regional Hospital emergency department and that has led to in the last 10 weeks mandatory overtime and additional shifts for registered nurses equal to 27 full-time positions.

There have been only five days in the past month when the department was working to baseline, the grievance said.

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UNA wants AHS to immediately post at least 27 full-time positions, close parts of the emergency department for safe staffing, have paramedics and ambulance in the emergency department at all times to move patients to other sites, bring in experts to deal with the psychological distress of employees and stop pressuring employees to work additional shifts.

“One staff reported receiving 36 text messages in one day, asking her to work additional shifts,” the UNA grievance stated. “Another reported receiving 32 text messages in two hours, asking her to work additional shifts.”

On Monday, AHS reiterated the pressure the Red Deer emergency department saw “on the weekend” were “due to an unanticipated staffing shortage and patient demand.”

“The challenges on the weekend were prompted in part by staff illnesses, 15 recent maternity leaves and a number of leaves of absence,” AHS spokesman Kerry Williamson said.

He said AHS took proactive steps to minimize the impact of these challenges to ensure patient care was uninterrupted.

“AHS has been working hard to fill vacancies at Red Deer,” Williamson said. “Since April, 22 RNs and LPNs have been hired in the emergency department, as well as 15 casual employees.

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“In addition, AHS is aggressively recruiting to fill five postings for full-time nursing positions in the Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre emergency department, which we hope to fill as soon as possible. There are three further nursing vacancies which we are also recruiting into.”

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In a statement, AHS said it acknowledges staff concerns, is working with them, and will continue to discuss the UNA’s concerns.

June 19, 2018 United Nurses of Alberta Official Grievance Form by Anonymous mhXtDcYr6 on Scribd

–With files from Global News’ Phil Heidenreich

Watch below: (From March 2018): Doctors in Red Deer say the regional hospital in that city can’t keep up with demand. Vinesh Pratap looks at what’s being done to change things.