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AHS and nurses’ union reach agreement to resolve Red Deer ER staffing issues

March 5, 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.

Alberta Health Services and the United Nurses of Alberta reached an agreement Friday to settle a union grievance over a nursing staff shortage at the Red Deer hospital.

The settlement includes 11.7 full-time-equivalent Registered Nurse relief positions to be used “exclusively in the emergency department at the Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre (RDRHC),” a joint news release sent Tuesday explained.

After two years, the relief staffing levels will be reviewed on an annual basis by site management, the release, sent by both AHS and UNA said.

The two groups also made progress on the issue of “the automated call out system, compliance with the provincial health and safety regulations, and improved communication between parties when staffing shortages arise.”

READ MORE: Red Deer emergency department experiencing nurse shortage

In June 2018, the union filed a formal grievance, saying critical staffing shortages had been an issue in the emergency department for two years.

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The grievance claimed AHS failed to post vacancies in the Red Deer Regional Hospital emergency department and that led to mandatory overtime and additional shifts for registered nurses equal to 27 full-time positions over a 10-week period.

WATCH BELOW: A group of Red Deer physicians is taking Alberta Health Services to task for delaying badly needed upgrades to the regional hospital. As Tom Vernon explains, the doctors are speaking out because they feel patient care is suffering (Feb. 10, 2017) 

Red Deer physicians fear patient care is suffering in central Alberta
Red Deer physicians fear patient care is suffering in central Alberta

UNA wanted 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.

AHS said it had been working hard to fill vacancies at the hospital.

“Since April, 22 RNs and LPNs have been hired in the emergency department, as well as 15 casual employees,” AHS spokesperson Kerry Williamson said in a June statement to Global News.

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

Since the Jan. 11 agreement resolves the union grievance, the previously scheduled arbitration hearing was cancelled.

“Both UNA and AHS wish to acknowledge their appreciation for the unwavering dedication of emergency department staff during the staffing shortages at RDRHC,” the joint news release said.

“Their commitment to caring for patients saw them go above and beyond the call of duty during a challenging, stressful time and helped ensure the emergency department remained fully operational.”