The president of the Health Sciences Association of Alberta (HSAA) says staff are being denied time off and is calling on the province to take action to protect workers from burnout.
Staff shortages have lead to red alert situations in Calgary and Edmonton, meaning no ambulances were available to respond to calls and lab closures occurred in Edmonton this weekend.
“Our lab capacity is currently curtailed by the inability to fill vacant positions and most weeks we have over 200 paramedic shifts vacant because there’s no staff available,” HSAA president Mike Parker said on Monday.
The HSAA is calling on the province to supply all front-line workers with N95 masks, come up with a plan to retain and recruit health-care professionals and protect the mental health of workers by allowing them days off with an “appropriate” workload.
Parker said the system is running on overtime.
“I can tell you that time off is being denied. We have pressure from employers to aggressively encourage our folks back to work again. This has been a relatively new piece in the last few weeks,” Parker said.
The wife of an Airdrie paramedic who was suspended for two days this month says he posted publicly available information about response times and ambulance shortages.
“The specific post that he was suspended for, in quite a few of the comments he clearly states that this is his opinion. So now they are trying to go back on him, saying he was representing AHS,” Middleton said.
Middleton said her husband did not make any statements as an AHS employee.
“It makes me super angry because he is trying to do what is right for everybody and trying to make Airdrie and surrounding communities a safer place for everybody,” Middleton said.
Parker said he’s encouraging workers to reach out to the union.
“I encourage any members, if they want to speak out, go through us so we can protect them,” Parker said.
In response, Alberta Health Services says all AHS employees are expected to adhere to a Code of Conduct, which covers social media activity and includes treating all people with respect, compassion, dignity and fairness.
As for union staffing concerns, AHS said EMS employees have multiple avenues to take time off – including vacation time, personal days and shift trades.
EMS has also brought on additional staff and ambulances and filled 100 paramedic positions across the province.
“EMS continues to see an increase in emergency calls due to several combined factors, including the COVID-19 pandemic, opioid concerns, and emergency calls related to people returning to regular levels of activity.
“All call types have increased, and staff illness and fatigue are also contributing to challenges in the EMS system,” said an AHS spokesperson on Monday.
He said to ensure shifts are filled, AHS EMS redeploys supervisors to front-line duty and is also offering overtime to staff who are willing to fill shifts.
AHS also said EMS has an adequate supply of N95 masks and EMS staff are using these.
HSAA represents 28,000 health-care workers.