Albertan nurses are begging for change. On Thursday, September 24, United Nurses Of Alberta (UNA) released a statement saying that nurses are not given "special paid leave" when they're told to self-isolate. Therefore, they either have to burn through sick leave or make do without any pay.
The problem worsened when a number of nurses were told to self-isolate due to a COVID-19 outbreak at a Calgary hospital.
The special paid leave was a program made available to Alberta nurses at the beginning of the pandemic.
It compensated them if they were in mandatory self-isolation. The program ended on July 6, according to UNA's statement.
David Harrigan, the director of labour relations at the UNA, told Narcity how the recent outbreaks at hospitals in Calgary and Edmonton have made the problem worse.
"A lot of members are casual employees and they're not entitled to sick leave," said Harrigan.
The COVID-19 outbreak at the Foothills hospital in Calgary has forced 114 staff members into self-isolation as of Thursday, September 24, as stated by CBC News.
Neither Harrigan nor AHS was able to give an estimate of how many staff members are getting paid sick leave and how many are not getting paid at all.
"The regular employees who are entitled to sick leave, they run through it very quickly," said Harrigan. He added that "a lot of them" have already used up their sick leave since the pandemic began over six months ago.
The UNA's statement mentioned that these nurses are "taking a financial hit" by not being able to work or if they've already used up sick leave.
It also stated the cancellation of the special paid leave program discourages nurses from staying home while sick.
"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," wrote Harrigan in the statement.
Harrigan told us that he's had many nurses and health care workers calling him with their concerns. "What we know is our members have phoned us, saying "Look, I'm in a real quandary here."
The UNA is calling on the province to either reinstate the special paid leave or have the nurses working from home in some capacity so they're not "losing income" by self-isolating.
AHA spokesperson James Wood told Narcity in an email that all AHS staff members who've been told to self-isolate for COVID-19 "will be provided sick leave, salary continuance or short-term disability," but only if it's under "their Collective Agreement or Terms and Conditions of Employment."
Due to "the end of the province-wide public health emergency and the COVID-19 pandemic now extending into the future," AHS chose to cancel the special paid leave arrangement.
Harrigan said in the UNA's statement, "nurses are on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic every day and are feeling extremely misused and disrespected."
He and the UNA president Heather Smith plan to sit down with AHS CEO Dr. Verna Yiu and express their concerns.