Alberta Health Services plans to lay off 750 front-line nurses, union says

More than 750 front-line nurses are to be laid off under a “massive downsizing” at Alberta Health Services (AHS), the United Nurses of Alberta said Friday.

In a news release, UNA president Heather Smith said she is asking for an immediate emergency meeting with Health Minister Tyler Shandro.

The government had promised “not to touch front-line health workers,” Smith said in a news release.

“We do not believe Albertans will support this plan and they should tell the premier so.”

Premier Jason Kenney was at a business conference in Lake Louise on Friday, where reporters asked him about the layoffs.

“We’ve always been clear that getting our province’s finances back in order will require some reduction in the size of the overall public service, and that we hope to achieve that primarily through attrition,” Kenney said. “My understanding is that’s the goal of AHS management.”

He said the recent Alberta budget increased the budget for health care by $150 million, “so there’s actually no overall reductions in the AHS budget. We’ve kept our commitment. But they do have to find efficiencies to deal with the growing cost demands that come from an aging population.”

The nurses’ union said it learned of the planned cuts on Thursday after the lead negotiator for AHS, Raelene Fitz, called a meeting “unexpectedly” to inform the union that it plans to eliminate 500 full-time-equivalent (FTE) nursing positions over a three-year period beginning April 1, 2020.

The plans were disclosed “in advance of bargaining for UNA’s 2020 provincial collective agreement so that the union would have time to absorb the information and respond accordingly,” the union said in its news release.

Cutting 500 full-time-equivalent positions would mean layoffs for more than 750 front-line registered nurses, the union said.

“From the tone of what we were told, we believe this is only the first wave of layoffs affecting RNs represented by UNA,” Smith said.

AHS officials were also scheduled to meet bargaining representatives from other health-care unions on Friday, the news release said.

The nurses’ union released a copy of a letter sent by AHS to UNA Friday morning.

“While our budget has remained stable, Alberta’s growing and aging population means we need to be more efficient and focused in terms of health-care spending,” the letter says.

It says that before April 1, AHS will use an “attrition-only” approach to reducing staffing numbers.

It is looking at the possibility of contracting out home-care services including nursing, palliative and pediatric care. “This would impact approximately 60 FTE,” the letter says.

It says there are “no specific plans at this time” to close acute-care beds as continuing-care beds open, but that “this work may commence in 2020.”

AHS says in the letter it will consider “all options available” to meet organization needs in the future, including “changes to staff mix, service redesign including changes and repurposing of sites, relocating services, reducing or ceasing the provision of services.”

The Opposition NDP said in a news release that the loss of nursing positions “will have a serious impact both [on] patient care and on communities where the hospital is a major employer.”

AHS employs more than 26,000 RNs.

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