UNA members at two locals use PRC process to ease nighttime understaffing

Thanks to the dedication of United Nurses of Alberta members, the Professional Responsibility Concern process in UNA’s collective agreements continues to improve the quality of care in Alberta health care facilities.

Recently members of two Central Alberta locals, Local 43 in Olds and Local 4 in Stettler, were able to use PRCs to raise employee numbers on understaffed nighttime shifts.

Local 43 members used the process to address the need for a maternity float nurse at the Olds Hospital and Care Centre, which is located about halfway between Calgary and Red Deer.

Starting in 2012, the need for increased staff in the rural hospital was evident from the stress, burnout and sometimes tears, local members recall. Using a committee set up under the Joint Workforce Regularization Process, the required FTE was identified. But when needed changes were not made, local members began to write PRCs.

There was a meeting with the CEO’s designate in 2014 and 2016, and another scheduled for May 2017. The 2017 meeting was cancelled when there was finally evidence of progress with management at the site.

The result, writes Local 43 President Sharleen Hazelwood, were small staffing increases after the meetings with the CEO designate and much more significant results in 2017.

“We went into that meeting with 143 open PRCs spanning five years and left with two open PRCs,” she said. “The process does work. The results, unfortunately, can be slow in appearing.”

Meanwhile, at Local 4 in Stettler, UNA members faced a similar situation, with staff suffering burnout symptoms, breaks often missed and vacation requests frequently denied as a result of chronic understaffing – only two Registered Nurses and two LPNs dealing with 26 to 30 patients between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. at the Stettler Hospital and Care Centre, including Maternity and the ER.

“We started filling out PRC forms about two years ago and had about 14 PRCs relating to this issue open,” said Kelsey Asmussen of Local 4’s PRC Committee. With help from UNA PRC Advisor Chris Axtell, she remembered, the local was able to arrange a meeting with acting Chief Zone Officer Sherie Allen. “Within one day of our meeting with Sherry we were approved for another LPN from 2300-0700 for seven days a week, giving us five staff on nights permanently." 

The result, said, Asmussen, is safer patient care, fewer missed breaks, and a healthier staff.

“PRCs do work and we are so happy that our staff and UNA worked together as a team to advocate for patient safety and improve work conditions,” she concluded.