Nurses should not be penalized for self-isolating due to COVID-19 outbreaks in hospitals

UNA requests meeting with AHS CEO to discuss urgent concerns

“Nurses are on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic everyday and are feeling extremely misused and disrespected,” said Harrigan.

United Nurses of Alberta is calling on Alberta Health Services to increase supports for Registered Nurses and Registered Psychiatric Nurses forced to self-isolate due to COVID-19 outbreaks in the workplace.

In a letter sent to AHS CEO Dr. Verna Yiu on Sept. 24, 2020, UNA Director of Labour Relations David Harrigan called on AHS to ensure employees who are required to self-isolate due to of COVID-19 outbreaks suffer no loss as a result of isolation.

Harrigan suggested this could be accomplished by either assigning work that can be completed while in isolation or reinstating special paid leave. The special paid leave was implemented at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and was cancelled by AHS on July 6, 2020.

“Nurses who are required to self-isolate because of outbreaks in hospitals and long-term care centres are being forced to use sick leave days or take a financial hit,” said Harrigan. “Regular employees are running through their sick leave banks and casual nurses don’t have access to sick leave, so they are losing income.”

Recent COVID-19 outbreaks at Foothills Medical Centre in Calgary, Misericordia Community Hospital in Edmonton and other facilities across the province demonstrate the strain placed on health workers by the spread of COVID-19.

“Nurses are on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic everyday and are feeling extremely misused and disrespected,” said Harrigan.

Along with AHS’s renewed focus on “attendance awareness” and “vacancy management” programs, UNA is concerned nurses will be pressured to report to work even if they are feeling ill during the pandemic.

AHS’s “vacancy management” program has result in many nurse position vacancies not being posted or filled, and staff being required to work additional shifts, overtime and work short staffed.

“Even during a normal flu season it is irresponsible to create an environment where employees feel obliged to report to work; during a pandemic the effects are exponential,” said Harrigan. “For those who are already struggling financially this is a further disincentive to remain at home in the face of mild symptoms.”

Harrigan and UNA President Heather Smith have requested a meeting with Dr. Yiu to discuss these concerns.

United Nurses of Alberta represents more than 30,000 Registered Nurses, Registered Psychiatric Nurses and allied health workers.

For more information, please contact:
David Harrigan
Director of Labour Relations, United Nurses of Alberta