AHS needs to halt plan to slash staffing at Cross Cancer Institute, provide transparency: UNA president

For immediate release: Thursday, Oct. 29, 2020

Significant staffing cuts planned by Alberta Health Services for the Cross Cancer Institute (CCI) will compromise patient safety and care, say nurses working in the Edmonton facility.

Nurses and other health care workers at CCI are already dealing with understaffing on many shifts, and AHS plans to implement the so-called Operational Best Practices (OBP) program is expected to reduce front-line clinical staffing by about 20 per cent in the in-patient department through attrition, said United Nurses of Alberta President Heather Smith.

AHS proposes to change the staff-to-patient ratio at CCI to one staff member to five patients from the current normal levels of one to four and one to three if acuity levels are high.

Most of the affected front-line health care workers will be Registered Nurses based on what staff were told at a meeting with facility managers last week, Smith said.

To make matters worse, the other hospital facilities with which CCI staffing levels are being compared to determine supposed “operational best practices” are either not comparable or simply unknown, possibly in other provinces.

For example, members of UNA Local 302N at the facility say, a medicine unit at Calgary’s Foothills Medical Centre used for comparison has access to the facilities of a major hospital right next door on weekends, whereas CCI weekend staff are essentially on their own with no resources, like a small-town hospital. 

Staff say this will reduce nursing care at CCI to levels never seen in the history of the institution.

Medical staff and managers at CCI have worked together to deliver the gold standard of care for cancer patients in northern Alberta, Smith said. “It would be tragedy if financially motivated cuts by AHS compromised the quality of care that CCI staff deliver every day.”

So as a first step, Smith said, AHS needs to stop the planned changes at the Cross until there is complete transparency about how managers are coming up with numbers that appear from a common sense perspective to be dangerously off base.

“It is clearly not appropriate to ask nurses who are already dealing with the serious health issues presented by the pandemic and already facing serious understaffing on some shifts to suddenly have to deal with a 20-per-cent staff cut,” Smith said.

“This is a dangerous plan,” Smith said. “AHS needs to do a reset, and offer some real transparency on how they came up with these numbers.”

Patients and their families should be extremely concerned about AHS’s plans for CCI,” she concluded.