Kenney Government’s layoff announcement throws health care in Alberta back into chaos

Whatever they have in mind, this once again throws health care in Alberta into chaos, right in the middle of the largest health care emergency in a century. — David Harrigan, UNA Labour Relations Director.

This morning’s promise by Health Minister Tyler Shandro that there will be no layoffs of front-line nurses when it lays off 11,000 health care employees contradicts statements by Alberta Health Services in a letter received this morning, said United Nurses of Alberta Labour Relations Director David Harrigan.

“So whatever they have in mind, this once again throws health care in Alberta into chaos, right in the middle of the largest health care emergency in a century,” he stated.

Harrigan explained that the letter he received this morning from Lee McEwen, AHS’s executive director of negotiations and labour relations, stated clearly AHS plans to proceed with its previously announced layoff of 500 nursing full-time equivalents, which UNA calculates will put 750 nurses out of work.

Harrigan noted that Shandro was also careful during this morning’s news conference on the recommendations in the Ernst & Young Report on restructuring Alberta Health Services to repeat his promise not to lay off front-line nurses lasts only as long as the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There is nothing to prevent this government from prematurely declaring the pandemic to be over whenever it pleases, so this is a relatively meaningless promise,” Harrigan said.

Moreover, he noted, Shandro referred several times to eliminating nursing positions through attrition, so nursing positions will continue to be lost.

While laying off 11,000 health care workers is not quite as bad as the 16,000 layoffs including many more nurses recommended by Ernst & Young, Harrigan said, “it’s still a dangerous and irresponsible action under the circumstances.”

He said UNA is seeking immediate clarification from AHS whether the minister’s statements change the intentions set out in McEwen’s letter this morning.

Last week, Harrigan added, AHS responded to UNA’s request for clarification about the Ernst & Young report by saying that AHS was continuing to work with the Health Ministry on implementation of the British-based multinational management consulting firm’s review of AHS operations and that no response from the government was expected until later in the fall.

“So it sounds like they came up with a 79-page implementation plan over the long weekend,” he said.

“Stability in the midst of a pandemic won’t be achieved by short staffed hospitals and burnt out health care workers,” Harrigan concluded, noting that positions are already silently disappearing in the midst of the pandemic, and have been for months, leaving nurses short staffed and overworked and patient safety compromised.