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Order to reduce COVID-19 spread delayed as Alberta’s nurse union files grievance

An order aimed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 between care homes has been delayed as Alberta's nurse's union files grievance with Alberta Health Services. Global News

Alberta’s nurses’ union has filed a grievance with Alberta Health Services which seeks to clarify an order handed down by chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw.

United Nurses of Alberta (UNA) filed the grievance Wednesday morning, which says the union wants more information on the April 10 order that restricts staff movement among health care facilities.

The restriction applies to staff who work at nursing homes, supportive living facilities and auxiliary hospitals, and is aimed at reducing the spread of COVID-19 between facilities.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Calgary long-term care facility recruiting staff as death toll rises to 18

Acute care hospitals like Foothills Medical Centre in Calgary and the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Edmonton are exempt.

David Harrigan – the director of Labour Relations for United Nurses of Alberta – said the order does not provide direction for nurses who work in buildings that double as both a care centre and acute care hospital.

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“We have [nurses] who work in the hospital [ward]. And even though she doesn’t work in the long-term care section, it’s an approved hospital,” said Harrigan. “Does that mean she’s not allowed to pick up shifts in [other acute care hospitals]?”

READ MORE: Alberta expands testing to anyone with COVID-19 symptoms

Harrigan said the union does not have a problem with the order, it just wants to make sure its member are following the rules.

“All we’re looking for is clarity because our members are asking [if they should] pick up a shift,” said Harrigan. “There’s a lot of nurses that pick up shifts, other than their normal place of employment.”
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Harrigan said filing the grievance was a last resort, and that if the order had gone into effect without clarification, it could have had major consequences.

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“We’re concerned that it’s going to lead to chaos and possible staff shortages,” said Harrigan.

The order was set to go into effect April 23 but in a statement responding to the grievance, Alberta Health Services said that plan has been delayed.

“The order’s original date for completion was April 23, 2020. However, that date was rescinded as of today. Alberta Health has now provided additional guidance to AHS and we will move ahead with our planning for implementation,” read the statement.

“In the coming days, we will provide additional information to UNA and we hope to work with the union as we proceed.”

READ MORE: Alberta will test everyone in continuing care facilities with outbreaks for COVID-19, symptomatic or not

Hinshaw also responded to the grievance on Wednesday and agreed more details are needed.

“There are details that are still being worked out,” Hinshaw said. “Hopefully that we can find mutually agreeable solutions. But the importance of this order really is to protect the most vulnerable.”

Neither the UNA, AHS or Alberta Health was able to give a firm date on when the order will be put in place.

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