Alberta's health-care workers union wants more done to protect staff during Omicron

The Health Sciences Association of Alberta (HSAA) is calling on the province to act and ensure the success of the public health-care system as the Omicron variant of COVID-19 continues to spread.

In recent months, Emergency Medical Services in Alberta have experienced numerous 'code reds,' meaning no ambulances and paramedics are available in a given region.

“Members from across this province are reporting unfilled shifts, forced overtime or they can't get home at the end of the day, because there are no people available,” said HSAA president Mike Parker.

Alberta Health Services said in a statement that it will use resources from other communities.

“At times, we may temporarily reposition units from other communities or defer non-urgent transfers to address shift gaps, and may also use a single paramedic response units as needed,” said spokesperson James Wood.

“EMS has also brought on additional staff and ambulances and filled 100 paramedic positions across the province as well as working closely with hospital teams to ensure timely flow through our emergency departments.”

As for days off, AHS says vacation is handed out.

“All in-scope paramedic staff requested and are approved for 75 per cent of their annual vacation allotment at the start of the year via the annual vacation selection process,” said Wood.

For calls in Calgary, ambulances have been dispatched from as far away as Sylvan Lake, which is 158 kilometres north of the city.

The union says lengthy response times are due in part to ambulances being dropped or downgraded during shifts as a result of staffing shortages.

“I encourage any member if they want to speak out, if you please flow through us so we can protect them from this predatory employer,” said Parker.

“It is dangerous times when we speak the truth. They know the truth, the employer does, the government does and they are using a heavy hand to ensure that they don't speak out as frontline paramedics.”

With Omicron spreading and more than 1,000 people now in hospital, AHS says staff are not being reprimanded for being sick.

“It is categorically untrue to say staff are being punished for calling in sick,” said Wood.

HSAA represents 28,000 health-care workers.