Alberta will 'immediately' fill nurse shortages with third-party staff: Nurses union

The union representing nurses says Alberta Health Services (AHS) informed them it will “immediately” begin filling staffing shortages by hiring contract nurses from three agencies across Canada.

In a statement on Saturday, United Nurses of Alberta (UNA) disclosed it received an email notifying them that “AHS will use contracted resources to address short-term contracting issues” as the hospital system deals with surges in patients due to the fourth wave of COVID-19.

According to the UNA, the three nursing agencies are Toronto-based Greenstaff Medical Canada, Northern Nursing Solutions from Airdrie, Alta., and Vancouver’s Brylu Staffing.

AHS also told the union it was withdrawing a previous labour relations board complaint against the UNA where the health care authority alleged the union participated in bargaining in bad faith by making public statements that AHS was in talks with Greenstaff.

According to the email UNA received, AHS said the nurses’ collective agreement permits the use of contract nurses and is the health care authority’s “current practice.”

AHS told the UNA it would disclose when a contract with any of the agencies was reached. The UNA says it has not received information from AHS about what staffing agencies will pay nurses.

“UNA nurses have not received any pay increases for the past five years and will continue to press the employer in negotiations to being to take negotiations seriously for Registered Nurses and Registered Psychiatric Nurses, and to address the chronic staffing crisis faced by Alberta health care facilities,” the UNA said.

In August, the UNA said Greenstaff Medical offered to pay nurses it employs to work at AHS facilities $55 an hour for general acute care and up to $75 an hour for ICU and emergency department shifts, as well as weekend premiums, a housing allowance, and shift differentials. Union member nurses working for AHS are currently paid between $36.86 and $48.37 per hour.

'SIGNIFICANT' CAPACITY ISSUES: AHS

Kerry Williamson, AHS spokesperson told CTV News Edmonton in a statement, that Alberta is facing "significant" capacity issues, particularly in ICUs.

"We are doing all we can to open additional capacity, however our biggest challenge right now is finding available healthcare workers to staff those surge beds," Williamson said. "This critical staffing challenge is limiting our ability to open additional beds, which in turn is placing strain on our ability to care for patients.

"In order to alleviate this staffing challenge, AHS is again working with contract staff supplied by staffing agencies, as a last resort to prevent further disruption of services and patient care."

Williamson added that there are no specifics about the use of third-party nurses as conversations with the agencies have just begun.