Pauline Worsfold has been a nurse in Edmonton for 40 years. She’s seen a thing or two in her career and says the current tsunami of COVID-19 patients filling up Alberta hospitals is like nothing she’s ever experienced before.
“It’s more than bleak — it’s devastating,” she said with tears in her eyes Friday morning, attending an event put together by the United Nurses of Alberta.
She pleaded with Albertans, saying the crisis is out of the control of health-care workers.
“We need help and we’re not the front line anymore. The public is the front line now.
“It’s up to you — each and every one of you out there to do your part, to keep every single person safe: your family, your children, your grandchildren, your neighbour and us nurses.”
Each day, more and more Albertans are dying from COVID-19 and Worsfold said they are more than statistics.
“When you see those numbers every night on the news, those are real people with real families.”
This week, the chief medical officer of health spoke of 24 deaths being reported to Alberta health in a 24-hour period.
“That’s nothing. You should hear the stories. A lot of us are prevented from speaking out,” Worsfold said.
“We have patients who are 57 years old: came to the hospital, died 48 hours later — unvaccinated. Her 34-year-old daughter came within a week — unvaccinated. She will probably die this week, if she hasn’t died already,” she said tearfully, adding there are now four children that have no grandmother and soon could lose their mom too.
“They’re not just numbers, they’re people.”
In a statement, Alberta Health Services said there has been no direction “whatsoever” to staff about speaking on the COVID-19 situation in Alberta.
“The only request we have is that staff make it clear they are speaking as individuals, rather than on behalf of the organization,” a spokesperson said.
The health organization said it supports staff who wish to share their experiences, provided they to do not break any privacy rules.
While the seriousness of pandemic has waned for some COVID-weary Albertans, for 19 months doctors, nurses and health-care workers have remained on high alert.
Worsfold said the non-stop stress is taking a toll.
“We’re tired of being tired. We’re tired of being asked to come to work. I was just lucky to get today off. I was originally supposed to work,” she said.
Alberta nurses say they are done asking for a fair deal: that was the message Friday as dozens loaded up for a convoy around Edmonton to speak out about the state of health-care in Alberta.
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“The other thing is we’re done asking. We’re now demanding,” said Worsfold, explaining nurses want safer patient to staff ratios and more nurses to spread the workload.
“We’re demanding more help.”
Members of the United Nurses of Alberta drove past all the city’s major hospitals to protest what the union says is a “lack of government action to fix the critical nursing shortage and urge improvements to Alberta’s beleaguered health-care system.”
The UNA event began with a rally in the morning in Mill Woods and departed at 10 a.m.
The planned route saw a convoy drive by and show their support to nurses and health-care staff the Grey Nuns Community Hospital, St. Joseph’s Auxiliary Hospital, University of Alberta Hospital, Edmonton General Hospital, Royal Alexandra Hospital and Misericordia Community Hospital.
Friday’s convoy is part of the National Day of Action organized by the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions.
Nurses have held several events over the summer months, raising awareness about planned wage rollbacks in a new collective agreement that the province has since dropped.
In recent months, both doctors and nurses in Alberta have spoken out about burnout, low morale and shortages that were affecting staffing even before Alberta’s fourth wave of COVID-19 ramped up to the critical point it’s now at.
Alberta Health spokesperson Steve Buick said the ministry recognizes the situation in hospitals is very serious.
“We’re supporting (Alberta Health Services) in taking any measure needed to increase capacity to get through this crisis and make sure patients get safe care,” he said in a statement to Global News.
“We thank the nurses and others who are working extraordinarily hard to care for patients, and we feel for patients who are seeing procedures postponed to free up staff to increase ICU capacity.”
Buick said the one sure way out of the crisis is to increase Alberta’s vaccination rate.
“We’re taking aggressive steps to do that, including allowing businesses and other organizations to require proof of vaccination from their customers.
“We urgently need Albertans who have put off getting vaccinated to make the right choice, right now.”
The UNA said its members are being asked to contact their MLA to raise concerns about understaffing and post about it on social media.
The United Nurses of Alberta represents more than 30,000 registered nurses, registered psychiatric nurses and allied workers in Alberta.