January 24th, 2022

Front-line nurses burnt out as pandemic continues

By Alejandra Pulido-Guzman - Lethbridge Herald on January 13, 2022.

LETHBRIDGE HERALDapulido@lethbridgeherald.com

Nurses across Alberta are experiencing exhaustion related not only to the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic, but also to the demands in the worksites due to shortages, according to the president of the United Nurses of Alberta.
“Our locals across the province identified staffing deficits before COVID so prior to January of 2020 we were already sort of in a struggle with Alberta Health Services and with government,” said Heather Smith, president of UNA.
Smith said they were already having reports of nurses in units across the province including Lethbridge experiencing shortages, because positions were not being filled, or were simply being removed or changed.
“Going into 2020, it was a very stressful environment already because of what our members felt was inadequate staffing, particularly evident in rural parts of the province where they had difficulty recruiting,” said Smith.
Smith said that urban centres also had concerns with respect to short staffing, whether due to scheduling or staff not being replaced when someone was on vacation.
“In terms of the workforce, you’ve got a workforce that’s already feeling understaffed, incredibly undervalued, insulted by the proposals that the employer brings to the table, threats of job elimination and then we get COVID,” said Smith.
Smith said it has been virtually nonstop exhaustion in terms of added fatigue, as they went into a pandemic with a shortage.
“Shortage in my view has continued, has actually increased. Now we’ve had – and I will tell you now Alberta Health Services will say, ‘well we’ve actually hired more nurses during the last few years.’ That is true but we’ve had an incredible escalation in demands. We didn’t have to have hundreds of people doing vaccinations, contact tracing and all that kind of stuff that COVID has brought to our workplaces,” said Smith.
Smith said that throughout the last two years, health care workers have been on the brink of exhaustion many times, and some of them had to remove themselves from the workplace because of physical, emotional, or mental exhaustion.
“When we look back, there was very severe concerns around moral fatigue and moral distress when we are talking about that we’re going to have to look at who lives and dies in this province,” said Smith.
Smith said that for two years they have had a workforce that has had increasing demands put on them to work.
“We’ve had part time working full time, casuals working full time hours, full time working many, many hours of additional overtime and just exhaustion,” said Smith.
Smith said in late 2021 the provincial government and AHS recognized they have a recruitment and retention problem, certainly in rural areas.
“The government actually has given AHS $7.5 million a year for recruitment and retention initiatives. We will as part of our new contract be involved in the decisions around how that money is disbursed,” said Smith.
She said $5 million will be for locally-identified designs, developed retention and recruitment initiatives, and $2.5 million for relocation costs.
“I’m not sure that they’re looking so much at nurses moving within the province and being paid relocation expenses, as probably they are looking to recruit on the outside, maybe outside of Canada to try to deal with it,” said Smith.
Smith said that the health workforce deficits is not just in Alberta but right across the country and have been identified as a huge issue.
“UNA is part of a national nurses union called the Canadian Federation of Nurses union and we have been asking, and depending on when the Prime Minister and the premiers meet, action on health human resources,” said Smith.
She said they are planning an investment in HR, because it is a mess across the country.

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Southern Albertan

As a retired Registered Nurse, and because of shortages even before the pandemic, and because of the negative ‘politics’ involved for years in Alberta, I definitely do not encourage entering the profession. And, if I was 17 years old, coming out of Grade 12 and going straight into a 3 year RN diploma program, I would not do it again. It certainly is not for everyone including the exhausting shift work, the risk of exposure to many dangerous infectious illnesses, physical assault from aggressive patients, trying to work with managers who are poor managers, punitive employers, the pecking order….walking away from it now and not missing a beat is certainly not surprising.

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