Salary disclosure lists show that nurses in Alberta are earning more overtime pay than ever and show staffing shortages are the worst they’ve ever been, according to the head of the nurse’s union.
“It’s an indication of just how desperate times are in terms of staffing deficits,” said Heather Smith, president of the United Nurses of Alberta.
One hundred AHS nurses made more than $200,000 in 2022, whereas in 2019, only 21 did, and none made that much in 2018 or 2017.
AHS nurses make anywhere from $80,000 to $125,000 in salary if they work a 40-hour work week each week, according to the UNA collective agreement, and they get a premium for working evenings, nights and weekends.
But this level of additional pay – sometimes double the employee’s salary – is from voluntary or mandatory overtime, Smith said.
“The reason they’re getting that kind of income is because they’re working far in excess of what they should be,” said Smith.
“Mandatory or not, a lot of it is guilt because of the empathy that people have knowing what will occur, what people will face, if they don’t report.”
Smith added an annual survey found two thirds of nurses report feeling more pressured to work overtime than they did last year.
Some nurses made hundreds of thousands of dollars above the typical salary last year, with one making more than $500,000.
“It’s obviously not sustainable,” said Smith.
Smith said someone working that much – in one case, possibly more than 110 hours on average every week – is bound to be exhausted and susceptible to injury.
The staff shortage could be remedied with greater retention, Smith said, adding international recruitment can’t be the only focus.
“If we continue to lose workforce and think that recruiting internationally is going to stabilize and reduce the demand for overtime we’re deluding ourselves,” she said.
Alberta Premier Danielle Smith told reporters in Calgary Monday that the province needs to be able to attract more nursing staff to get the overtime costs down.
“(We have to) find a way for everybody to have a better quality of life and better working conditions so that we are able to staff appropriately,” said the premier.
“There’s been so much frustration in how the frontline experience has been, we’ve got a number of nurses who only want to work part time or casual because of burnout and we’ve got to make it a pleasant place to work so that people will come back in.”
The premier cited ongoing conversations with nurse practitioners that would see them able to take on some responsibilities of primary care physicians, as well as an investment in home care in the provincial budget.
“If everyone had a family practitioner and we had home-based care, that would put less pressure on the hospitals,” she said.
Scott Johnston, press secretary for the provincial health ministry, said the government is clearing roadblocks so highly-skilled nurses can join the workforce faster.
“Since the College of Registered Nurses of Alberta (CRNA) instituted the triple-track assessment program, we’ve accredited more internationally educated nurses than ever before,” said Johnston.
“Since April 4, more than 2,700 nursing applicants received permits, most of whom received their training in other countries,” he said, adding about 600 nurses from other provinces and territories have also received accreditation in Alberta.
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