Staffing Alberta COVID-19 vaccine clinics ‘a challenge’ amid re-deployment, at-home school

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With Alberta in the grip of a third wave of COVID-19, staffing the health-care system remains a challenge, AHS said, and that includes filling immunization shifts.

The number of Albertans in hospital — and specifically in ICU — has spiked again, at the same time the province is ramping up its vaccination efforts.

Read more: Alberta stops giving first doses of AstraZeneca vaccine due to supply issues

The premier said Tuesday it’s expected more than 270,000 doses of vaccine will be administered over the next seven days. Alberta recorded an immunization record on May 6, with 59,492 doses of vaccine going into arms in just one day.

By Wednesday, Kenney said two million COVID-19 shots will have been given to Albertans, calling it a “big milestone for our province.”

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On Tuesday, there were 705 people being treated in hospital, 163 of them needing ICU care.

The demand for staff in hospital and vaccine clinics has not been helped with schools closing, since many health-care workers are parents of school-aged children.

Last Friday, as part of stronger public health measures to curb COVID-19 transmission, Alberta schools went back to at-home learning for a period of at least two weeks.

Read more: Alberta education minister ‘truly hopes’ temporary shift to online learning will be the last

“I know this is very difficult news to hear — for many students, for many parents, for teachers and for other staff,” Education Minister Adriana LaGrange said May 5.

“We know that at-home learning is especially difficult for younger students and we do not want to overburden families during this difficult time.”

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Read more: Schools go online as Alberta adds more COVID-19 restrictions for 3 weeks

Alberta Health Services said, with in-person school suspended until May 25, there will be an impact on its workforce.

“With increased demand on our health-care system, staffing is a challenge, however, we are able to redeploy staff from other areas to support our pandemic response,” AHS spokesperson Sabrina Atwal said in a statement to Global News.

Read more: Edmonton health-care worker details what it’s like to be redeployed during COVID-19

“Given the critical nature of health services, we want to work with our staff as they navigate this new situation so they can attend work as scheduled.

“If a staff member is unable to attend work due to child-care issues, we have asked them to work with their manager to determine if there are other options, such as switching shifts or flexible hours.”

However, since reasons for absences aren’t tracked, AHS doesn’t know how many are due to child-care challenges.

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AHS said it is redeploying staff, including non-clinical and non-unionized employees, to areas where they’re needed most, like COVID-19 testing, immunization and critical care.

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“Wherever possible, AHS will first deploy staff internally within a program area and maximize hours for trained part-time and casual staff, including use of overtime,” the health organization said.

If more staff are needed urgently, AHS looks to previously trained staff first, but redeployed employees “are always provided appropriate orientation and training so they can safely perform all expected duties,” AHS said.

Read more: AHS ‘actively recruiting’ more staff to help with COVID-19 immunization

AHS currently has registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, dentists and pharmacists offering COVID-19 immunizations, as well as nursing, pharmacy and medical students.

Any regulated member of a health profession under the Health Professions Act can administer COVID-19 vaccine in Alberta, along with students who meet certain criteria, AHS said.

“Immunizers receive educational and competency-based training on vaccine administration before immunizing,” AHS said.

As of May 10, 1,947,004 doses of COVID-19 vaccine had been administered in Alberta.

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