COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions for United Nurses of Alberta members

Updated: April 6, 2020

Disclaimer: Because COVID-19 is evolving by the minute, we cannot guarantee that everything referenced on this page is up to date. We will strive to review and update daily including adding additional questions and answers.

General

1. Where can I access more information on COVID-19?

Personal Protective Equipment

2. What are the PPE requirements when caring for suspected, presumed, or confirmed COVID-19 cases?

Alberta Health Services, Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, Covenant Health, Health Sciences Association of Alberta, and United Nurses of Alberta (UNA) agreed to the following joint statement outlining PPE standards for front-line health care workers in Alberta dealing with suspected, presumed, or confirmed COVID-19 patients: https://www.una.ca/files/uploads/2020/3/2020-03-26_AHS_Covenant_Unions_Joint_Statement_on_PPE.pdf

3. Does the joint statement on PPE mean that every nurse gets or should use an N95 mask with every suspected, probable, or confirmed COVID-19 positive patient?

  • This agreement allows nurses to conduct a point of care risk assessment (PCRA) using their professional and clinical judgement to determine the level of PPE they need to care for the patient.
  • We have a responsibility to ensure that we are using PPE appropriately (not excessively) to ensure that those caring for suspected, presumed or confirmed COVID-19 patients shall have access to the level of PPE they require.

4. What is a Point of Care Risk Assessment (PCRA)?

  • A Point of Care Risk Assessment (PCRA) is your first step in routine practices and is to be used with all patients for all care and all interactions. It involves assessing the patient, the activity, and the environment prior to each patient interaction. This assessment will help you decide what, if any, PPE you need to wear to protect and to prevent the spread of germs.
  • See the attached AHS PCRA poster: https://www.albertahealthservices.ca/ipc/hi-ipc-routine-practices-algorithim-cc.pdf
  • Examples:
    • Patient: You assess that the COVID-19 positive patient is coughing and sneezing excessively with copious amounts of respiratory secretions. You have to provide direct care and you consider replacing your surgical mask with a N95 respirator.

    • Activity: You assess that AGMPs will be performed, frequent, or are probable (e.g. the patient’s condition is unstable or deteriorating) for the COVID positive patient you are caring for and you don a N95 respirator.

    • Environment: You are asked to provide care to a COVID positive patient or group of patients in a non-traditional care area and you consider replacing your surgical/procedure mask with a N95 respirator.

5. What are the PPE recommendations for contact and droplet precautions?

6. What are the PPE recommendations for screening patients/staff/visitors entering facilities or clinics?

7. What are the PPE recommendations for Assessment Centres and ERs with Pre-Triage?

8. What should I do if I can’t access or I am being denied using PPE?

  • Have a discussion with your immediate supervisor/manager outlining your concerns.
  • The agreed upon Joint Statement on PPE with AHS and Covenant Health states the following:
    • If a health care worker determines on reasonable grounds that specific PPE is required, they shall have access to the appropriate PPE based on their PCRA, and this will not be unreasonably denied by their employer, or they shall be deployed to another area.
  • If the Manager denies your request for PPE and is not willing to deploy you to another area and you are still unable to access or are denied using PPE that you have requested, we encourage you to consider exercising your right to refuse dangerous work.
  • There are certain obligations you must meet to exercise this right, which can be reviewed here: https://www.alberta.ca/refuse-dangerous-work.aspx#toc-1
  • UNA will support any member that chooses to exercise their right to refuse dangerous work.
  • Please contact your Local or UNA Provincial Office (Phone: 1‑800‑252‑9394; Email: ProvincialOffice@una.ca) for questions or support.

9. I need to be N95 fit tested, what do I do?

  • Contact a Workplace/Occupational Health and Safety Advisor with your Employer. If you are unsure how to do that – reach out to your immediate Supervisor and/or contact your Local.
  • Please contact your Local or UNA Provincial Office (Phone: 1‑800‑252‑9394; Email: ProvincialOffice@una.ca) for questions or support.

Self-Isolation, Testing for COVID-19 and Return to Work

10. What do I do if I am having symptoms or think I have been exposed to COVID-19? How do I get tested for COVID-19?

  • If you are experiencing symptoms (fever, sore throat, cough, runny nose, shortness of breath), stay home and self-isolate – do not go to an ER or clinic.
  • If you need immediate medical attention, call 911 and inform them you may have COVID-19.
  • Take the online Healthcare Worker Self-Assessment tool to determine next steps and find out if you require testing: https://myhealth.alberta.ca/Journey/COVID-19/Pages/HWAssessLanding.aspx
    • This tool can be used by all front-line health care workers, regardless of their Employer.
  • The new online tool reflects the current testing requirements from Alberta Health and provides guidance to healthcare workers who may have been exposed to COVID-19 in the community, at work or from travel.
  • It outlines when to self-isolate, and when to call Health Link for a referral for COVID-19 testing, or Workplace Health and Safety (WHS) to address a potential workplace exposure.

11. What do I do if I think I may have contracted COVID-19 at work?

  • Contact your Employer Workplace/Occupational Health and Safety Department immediately for further guidance. AHS WHS: 1-855-450-3619 Covenant Health OHS: 1-855-342-8070 or 780-342-8070 (Edmonton Area).
  • If you are symptomatic, you should also make a WCB claim.
  • WCB Worker Fact Sheet: https://www.wcb.ab.ca/assets/pdfs/workers/WFS_COVID-19.pdf
  • Note that casuals are entitled to WCB since pay is based on normal hours of work, not FTE. However, it’s worth noting that Article 20 does not apply to casual employees, so the employee would be paid by WCB directly and not through the employer.

12. What do I do if I am waiting for a return call from Health Link 811 or WHS?

13. Does WHS or Public Health have to clear me to return to work? How do I know when to return to work?

14. Do I qualify for the AHS Expedited Return to Work?

  • Expedited returns to work will only be considered in exceptional circumstances (i.e. to address critical staffing needs), for asymptomatic Employees who are self-isolating, and must be discussed with your leader and approved by Zone Emergency Operations Centres (ZEOC).
  • The request is initiated by a manager, and not by staff themselves, and requires a completed Return to Work Approval form, which must be approved by the ZEOC.
  • If your Manager has obtained approval for you through the expedited return to work process, we would advise that you request a copy of the approved RTW form.

15. What do I do if my Manager is asking me to come back to work, but I have not finished my self-isolation period or I still have symptoms?

  • If you are symptomatic, you cannot return to work under any circumstances.
  • If you are positive for COVID-19, you will need to self-isolate until you are cleared by either Public Health or WHS to return to work. Your Manager cannot clear you to return to work.
  • If you are self-isolating because of travel or because you were a contact to a confirmed COVID-19 case, you can only return to work before you self-isolation period is over, if your Manager has obtained approval through the Expedited Return to Work process (see question 14).
  • There may be circumstances outside of these where you can return to work without clearance from WHS or Public Health and in discussion with your Manager. See the AHS Return to Work guide for details: https://www.albertahealthservices.ca/assets/info/ppih/if-ppih-covid-19-return-to-work-guide-ahs-healthcare-worker.pdf
  • If your Manager is asking you to come back to work that contradicts any of these guidelines, please email UNA’s OHS Advisor, Dewey Funk (funk@una.ca) with your name, manager’s name making the request, location, and unit and Dewey will forward to the Zone WHS Director for follow up.

Time Coding and Sick Leave 

16. How should my time be coded if I am off of work related to COVID-19?

For AHS:

  • Full-time, part-time and casual staff who are asymptomatic and restricted from work for the self-isolation period as instructed by either Health Link, Workplace Health & Safety, or Medical Officers of Health will be provided with paid leave (AFD pay code) for all regularly scheduled shifts.
  • For part-time and casual employees who have been pre-scheduled for additional picked up shifts during the 14 day self-isolation period, will also be provided with paid leave (AFD). This does not include shift premiums.
  • If a part-time employee becomes symptomatic, they will be coded paid sick leave for any regularly scheduled shifts as per their position FTE to the extent of their income continuance bank.
  • For any additional picked up shifts that either a part-time or casual employee was already pre-scheduled to work but is unable due to becoming symptomatic, they will not be paid for these shifts. In accordance with collective agreement provisions, part-time and casual employees are not entitled to sick leave for additional picked up shifts they were pre-scheduled to work but unable due to illness.

For Covenant Health:

  • Full time and Part Time Employees who are restricted from work as instructed by Healthlink, Occupational Health Safety and Wellness or Medical Officers of Health and who are asymptomatic will be provided with paid leave for all regularly scheduled shifts during the 14-day quarantine period.
  • Full Time or Part Time employees who become symptomatic will be coded paid sick leave for any regularly scheduled shifts per their position FTE to the extent of their income continuance bank.
  • Pre-Scheduled additional shifts for part time and casual symptomatic employees – for any additional picked up shifts, they will not be paid for these shifts. 

Note: If a person is symptomatic and there has been a suspected exposure at work they should make a WCB claim (See Question 11).

17. My child’s school or daycare is closed, how do I balance my work and childcare responsibilities?

For AHS:

  • An email to AHS Employees on March 15, 2020 stated:
    • Given the critical nature of health services, this is a time to have ‘all hands on deck’. We encourage you to be creative when looking at immediate and longer-term childcare options to ensure that we can provide essential health services to Albertans. As outlined in the AHS guideline on Temporary Alternate Workplace Arrangements, staff may be given the opportunity to work from home to address critical childcare needs, where possible, with manager approval.  It is expected those working at home will have appropriate arrangements for childcare. AHS will not provide alternatives to childcare in AHS facilities or offsite. If you are unable to attend work, please contact your unit and/or manager in accordance with normal absence protocols.  We know this announcement has come suddenly and many of you will be trying to make appropriate arrangements for your children. AHS will be calling on those who can fill shifts on short notice to be available to work.

For Covenant Health:

  • An email to Covenant Health Employees on March 15, 2020 stated:
    • Given the critical importance of our service to Albertans during this crisis, we need our staff to report to work. We ask that team members with children at home do everything possible to identify immediate and longer-term child care arrangements so that essential health care services are not compromised at this time. At the same time, Covenant leaders are working diligently to identify and reduce non-essential services and ensure we have staffing continuity over the next 48 hours and beyond. Wherever possible, staff will be given the opportunity to work from home to address childcare needs. If staff are unable to report to work, they will need to contact their supervisor in accordance with normal absence procedures. Missed time will be coded as per the collective agreement or terms and conditions of employment.
  • Please contact your Local or UNA Provincial Office (Phone: 1‑800‑252‑9394; Email: ProvincialOffice@una.ca) for questions or support. 

18. What if I am asked to self-isolate because of travel or symptoms and I don’t have time in my sick bank.

  • If you are asymptomatic and have been asked to self-isolate you will be provided with paid leave for all regularly scheduled shifts. This paid time will not come out of your sick bank.
  • If you are self-isolating and symptomatic and don’t have time in your sick bank, AHS and Covenant Health have arranged with their insurance provider to waive the 14-day waiting period for STD and you do not have to provide medical documentation to claim STD benefits.
  • You will have to complete a plan member confirmation of illness form. If the absence was expected to continue beyond the initial 14-day period, medical details would be required.
  • This does not apply to casual Employees.
  • Please contact your Local or UNA Provincial Office (Phone: 1‑800‑252‑9394; Email: ProvincialOffice@una.ca) for questions or support.

19. How should I be coded if I am under mandatory self-isolation and my symptoms resolve during this time?

  • If you are symptomatic you will be coded as sick time. If your symptoms resolve before your mandatory isolation period is over, your coding will be changed to AFD (paid LOA), for the period that you would have otherwise returned to work if not for being in isolation. This will also apply to casual employees who were symptomatic, and symptoms resolved, who had pre-scheduled shifts during the isolation period.

20. What do I do if I don’t feel my time is being coded appropriately related to me being off of work because of COVID-19?

  • Please contact your Local or UNA Provincial Office (Phone: 1‑800‑252‑9394; Email: ProvincialOffice@una.ca) for questions or support.

Vacations and Mandating

21. Can I cancel or reschedule my vacation? 

This will need to be assessed on a case by case basis in discussion with your immediate Supervisor/Manager. Please contact your Local or UNA Provincial Office for questions or support.

For AHS:

  • An email to AHS Employees on March 14, 2020, stated “Employees should speak to their leader directly for approval to delay or reschedule vacation time. We have asked AHS for more specific guidance on this and we are awaiting more information.

For Covenant Health:

  • Awaiting more information. 

22. Can the Employer cancel my vacation and mandate me to work?

Yes. Article 17.03(g) of the Provincial collective agreement states: “No Employee shall have vacation cancelled or rescheduled by the Employer unless it has been assessed to be a recognized critical unforeseen emergency and it can be demonstrated that a bona fide attempt was made to mobilize the appropriate, available resources to address and resolve the issues before activating these provisions. An Employee who has vacation cancelled by the Employer shall be paid 2X their Basic Rate of Pay for the Shift(s) worked during the period of vacation cancelled by the Employer. The Employer shall also reimburse all non-refundable costs related to the cancellation of the vacation.” 

This is a world-wide pandemic and almost certainly qualifies as a recognized critical unforeseen emergency.

The employer also has the right to mandate regular staff to work greater than their FTE. For fulltime employees, this would mean overtime. For part time employees the collective agreement says where the Employer requires a part-time Employee to work without having volunteered or agreed to do so or on the Employee’s scheduled day of rest, the Employee shall be paid 2X the applicable basic hourly rate for work performed.

Casual Employees cannot be mandated to work.

No Employee shall be requested or permitted to work more than a total of 16 hours (inclusive of regular and overtime hours) in a 24-hour period beginning at the first hour the Employee reports to work.

The employer has an obligation to minimize the use of mandatory overtime, and if an Employee believes that the Employer is requesting the Employee to work more than a reasonable amount of overtime, then the Employee may decline to work the additional overtime, except in an emergency, without being subject to disciplinary action.

The Employer also has the right to declare that Emergency Circumstances exist. In this case, Employees from any site may be assigned to work at any site to provide assistance.  The Employer will have to reimburse Employees for all reasonable, necessary and substantiated additional accommodation and transportation costs for traveling between sites including parking if not otherwise provided. 

Locals should ask the Employer to notify the Local each time vacation is canceled or individuals are mandated to work.

23. Can the Employer order me back from a Leave, such as a Maternity Leave?

  • No, there are no collective agreement provisions that would allow the Employer to take such action, even in the event of an Emergency.

Accommodations

24. Should I avoid caring for a patient with suspected or confirmed COVID-19, if I am pregnant, immunocompromised, or have an underlying medical condition?

  • At present, the WHO, PHAC, the US CDC, and European CDC do not provide guidance on this question.
  • If you have concerns regards to your own health in relation to caring for suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19, we encourage you to have a discussion with your manager about such a concern.
  • If your manager still asks you to care for suspected or confirmed cases, you need to assess your own comfort and risk in carrying out those activities.
  • If you are still uncomfortable with carrying out that work, we would advise you to:
    • Go to your medical doctor to explore the possibility of seeking medical documentation you can provide to your Employer.
    • Consider your right to refuse dangerous work. There are certain obligations you must meet to exercise this right, which can be reviewed here: https://www.alberta.ca/refuse-dangerous-work.aspx#toc-1
    • UNA will support any member that chooses to exercise their right to refuse dangerous work.
    • Please contact your Local or UNA Provincial Office (Phone: 1‑800‑252‑9394; Email: ProvincialOffice@una.ca) for questions or support.
  • The AHS COVID-19 FAQ for staff states:
    • Staff and students (including those who are pregnant, immunocompromised, or have underlying medical conditions) do not need to be restricted from providing care to patients who are under investigation for COVID-19, or who have probable or confirmed COVID-19, so long as the staff member or student is able to demonstrate proper use and fit of personal protective equipment, including donning and doffing, and can competently adhere to the IPC recommendations for COVID-19.
    • Individuals who are unable to competently adhere to the IPC recommendations for COVID-19 (e.g. skin condition that precludes proper hand hygiene practices) should not provide care to patients who are under investigation for COVID-19, or who have probable or confirmed COVID-19.

Redeployment

25. What is the process for redeployment?

  • Ideally, we would like the Employer to approach redeployment from a voluntary perspective and where there are too many volunteers the most senior get redeployed first, if there are not enough volunteers, they use the volunteers first then redeploy by reverse order of seniority. However, under the emergency provisions the Employer is able to redeploy and an Employee would be required to go.

26. Does the Employer have to provide me with adequate orientation to the area I am being redeployed to?

  • Yes, The Employee does need to be properly orientated and/or familiarized with the area and the work that will be required by them. The nurse needs to assess if they are safe to practice. If the assessment a nurse makes is, they are not safe to practice, management needs to be made aware right away and a plan developed to either provide more training/buddying or redeploy elsewhere.

27. During redeployment, are members moved to different units/sites temporarily and will they go back to their home unit when the pandemic is over?

  • While the "Emergency" provisions are engaged they are moved temporarily. When it is over Employees go back, unless exceptional circumstances exist to compel us to agree otherwise. The process to go back will likely take some time and we hope with a well thought out plan. Locals that may have people moved out should talk to the Employer about ensuring they talk to us about the moves out and know to talk to us about bringing them back.

28. Can casual staff refuse redeployment?

  • Yes, casuals still have the right to decline a shift.

Workload/Practices Issues

29. What do I do if I feel my safety is at risk?

  • Speak up and discuss the concern with your immediate supervisor/manager in a timely manner.
  • Document the concern through MySafetyNet (for AHS Employees) or for Covenant Health call the Employer Incident/Injury Reporting Line at 780-342-8070 (Edmonton Area) or 1-855-342-8070.  You should also report on a UNA Occupational Health and Safety OHS Form or you may fill out the OHS Form electronically on the UNA app and online at https://dms.una.ca/forms/ohs
  • Contact your Local or UNA Provincial Office (Phone: 1‑800‑252‑9394; Email: ProvincialOffice@una.ca) and ask to speak to an OHS Advisor for advice.
  • Consider your Right to Refuse dangerous work. There are certain obligations you must meet to exercise this right, which can be reviewed here. UNA will support any member that chooses to exercise their right to refuse dangerous work.

30. What do I do if I feel patient safety is at risk?

  • Speak up and discuss the concern with your immediate supervisor/manager in a timely manner.
  • Document the concern through on a UNA Professional Responsibility Concern (PRC) Form. You can fill out a paper PRC Form or you may fill out the PRC Form electronically on the UNA app and online at: https://dms.una.ca/forms/prc
  • Contact your Local or UNA Provincial Office (Phone: 1‑866‑492‑8584; Email: ProvincialOffice@una.ca) and ask to speak to an PRC Advisor for advice.

31. Are there any legal considerations I should be aware of when nursing in a pandemic?

  • The Canadian Protective Nurses Society (CNPS) does a great job of outlining some of the elements nurses should take into consideration when practicing during a pandemic:
  • https://www.cnps.ca/index.php?page=82

32. What do I do if my CPR course has been cancelled and it is about to expire?

Response from AHS:

  • In compliance with direction that any face-to-face staff training, not directly related to support of AHS' COVID-19 response, will be suspended until further notice, BLS courses are not being offered at this time.
  • AHS employees who require BLS training will be permitted to continue to work in circumstances where individual CPR certification has expired.
  • AHS will keep you informed when BLS training resumes and will continue to support employees to maintain their certification through full courses or the Prerequisite Challenge Exam.
  • We are in conversations with The Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation regarding a grace period on renewal. They will issue a new policy statement soon and we will update you.

Response from Covenant Health:

  • In compliance with Covenant Health’s direction that any face-to-face staff training, not directly related to support of the COVID-19 response, will be suspended until further notice, Basic Life Support (“BLS”) courses will not be offered at this time.
  • Covenant Health employees who require BLS training will be permitted to continue to work in circumstances where individual CPR certification has expired.
  • In these exceptional times, Heart & Stroke will allow a grace period on renewal. They will issue a new policy statement soon and we will update you.
  • Covenant Health will keep you informed when BLS training resumes.
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