Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Healthcare workers across Alberta have reached their limit, and without help, may be unable to continue to provide the care Albertans need.
On January 17th, Health Sciences Association of Alberta President, Mike Parker made remarks calling for assistance from the provincial government to support healthcare workers, citing three things needed to ensure that the HSAA and its members will be able to continue doing their vital work.
“HSAA members have been and will continue to be there when Albertans need care. But a decade of government inaction to ensure that we have enough health care professionals is taking a toll,” said Parker. “Last week started with 266 unfilled paramedic shifts across this province recording in progress this weekend. Three labs in Edmonton were shut down indefinitely due to staff shortages. Despite the incredibly difficult times that we are in, the health care professionals in this province continue to show up. It’s what we do. It’s who we are. But we need to be supported by this government and our employers.”
Over the last two years, immense trust has been placed in healthcare workers, said Parker, and they are not failing, but they do require help.
“Today HSAA is asking the current government and our employers for three things,” said Parker. “These three things that will keep us resilient and able to continue answering that call.”
“First, protect the physical well being of all healthcare professionals. Don’t just promise workers will get appropriate PPE, get it to them now. Anyone working in the public should have access to an end 95 Mask immediately. We need to ensure that our members stay healthy, and that they are not taking on the additional strain of worrying about bringing COVID back to their families,” said Parker, who notes that the currently offered n95 masks are not fitted and therefore not meeting requirements. “Second, protect the mental well being of all healthcare professionals. This requires respecting a human need to recover. People need breaks to be with loved ones, and with their communities of support to rest to recharge. And this system is currently running on overtime. This is not just people signing up for extra shifts. It’s a paramedic being dispatched for a long response in the final minutes of their shifts, when they desperately need to get home to their families and on time, are allowed workers being denied any breaks over the course of an entire shift despite their own medical needs. Our members will work those extra shifts, but they need assurances that they will be treated with compassion.”
The third request is for the development of a plan to retain and recruit more healthcare professionals. Parker notes that while COVID-19 and the current opioid crisis are making matters worse, the situation “has been deteriorating for a long time.”
“A health care system should be built to withstand a crisis. And that requires adequate resources, including people. In a recent survey that we conducted over 40% of our members indicated that they are considering reducing hours or leaving health care entirely,” said Parker. “Our lab capacity is currently curtailed by the inability to fill vacant positions. And most weeks, we have over 200 paramedic shifts vacant because there are no staff available. If we’re going to recruit, to solve these issues, we need a healthcare system that people want to work in. And that means a strong public sector system that treats its workers like the heroes that they truly are.”
Many HSAA members are reporting unfilled shifts or forced overtime due to there being nobody else available, said Parker. He has been told that paramedics on the front lines have received 10–15 calls to return to work after their shifts, due to a lack of other available workers.
This has, in the case of ambulance drivers, resulted in events such as vehicles being pulled from other cities and parts of the region in the event of emergency, which has resulted not only in delayed response times that can put patients at risk, but a severe toll on crews.
“When you see this ongoing issue with no resources, unfilled shifts, the psychological impact on a crew trying to get to your 911 call, responding with lights and sirens as the communications officers continue to update these crews on how serious the event truly is. These impacts are devastating to the crews that are trying to get there. And to the people waiting for a paramedic to come walking through the door. Those seconds are devastating,” said Parker.
“A new report talks about folks not even going into the lifeguard and ski patrol industries that were the feedstock of healthcare, these young workers became our health care professionals in the future. And they have a massive decline,” said Parker. “There’s nobody going into the healthcare profession, there’s got to be an issue here that we need to talk about. And that’s making a sustainable functioning health care system that takes care of the frontline workers so that they can take care of all Albertans.”