Capital Health, the public sector hospital chain in the Alberta region of Canada, is facing a serious shortage of nurses. It is indeed facing an unprecedented staffing crunch, says the United Nurses of Alberta.
"Although they're not calling it a crisis, this is, in my view, the biggest staffing crisis the health regions have dealt with since regionalization was introduced in 1994," Heather Smith, who represents about 24,000 registered nurses, said Saturday.
Capital Health notified unions and workers Friday that clinical managers with nursing skills and nurse educators working in the community might be asked to work voluntarily to ease pressure on hospital front lines.
"The only other time such a step has been taken would have been in the event of a strike or a public emergency," Smith said.
"What it indicates is that this is the most stretched the region has ever been in terms of attempting to provide staffing and resources."
There will be surgery cancellations over the next few weeks and continuing bed closures that could last until April, Capital Health has warned.
Capital Health spokesman Steve Buick did downplay the issue of health-care funding related to the shortage, but Smith stressed the need for more funds for health care and education.
Schools needed to expand nursing-program enrolment, keep tuition costs low and offer more student loans, Smith said.
On their part the health authorities must offer better incentives to retain senior staff, ease workloads and overtime and keep nursing-school graduates in Alberta. About 5,000 registered nurses were eligible to retire, Smith noted.
At the same time, the main cities were getting new health facilities such as Edmonton's Mazankowski Alberta Heart Institute.
"The under-supply is certainly peaking in Alberta in a way that goes beyond what some of the other provinces are experiencing."
The shortage was not limited to nurses, said Elizabeth Ballermann, president of the Health Sciences Association of Alberta (HSAA). The Association represents 15,000 health workers in 200 different jobs, such as laboratory technologists, occupational, physical and respiratory therapists, X-ray staff and social workers.
A survey of HSAA members released last week showed 80 per cent believe staff shortages affect their ability to provide quality care, said Ballermann. Many of the workers were key to freeing up beds by getting patients home, she said.
"Social workers, occupational therapists, physical therapists are the usual people who are involved as direct care providers and case co-ordinators in getting people home and getting their home care set up," Ballermann said.
People at the Royal Alexandra Hospital emergency department expressed varying degrees of concern Saturday over the nursing shortage, reports Edmonton journal.
"What are we going to do about the mess we're in?" asked Marguerite Lefeuvre, one of about 20 people waiting.
Lefeuvre said the nursing shortage in particular was entirely predictable. Ontario, she said, was going through the same problem when she left that province seven years ago.
"I find it very frustrating," said Lefeuvre, who added she could only hope a painful medical problem she's been experiencing won't get worse.
Also waiting anxiously at the Alex was Candis Jay, whose one-year-old daughter was experiencing hearing problems. Jay said she was concerned further surgery cancellations might aggravate her daughter's medical situation.
She said government could eliminate the nursing shortage by paying nurses and other medical personnel more.
"They're saving people's lives. I don't think they get enough pay for that," she said.