Alberta healthcare workers raising concerns around hiring freeze

Alberta healthcare workers are raising concerns around Alberta Health Service’s (AHS) announcement to cancel recruitment for critical frontline healthcare professionals as part of a hiring freeze to manage an operating deficit.

The Health Sciences Association of Alberta (HSAA) says they received an email from AHS on Feb. 20, outlining plans for “cost management strategies on hiring,” which would affect frontline positions across AHS, Alberta Precision Labs, Carewest, and CapitalCare.

In a leaked memo on the cost management strategies obtained by CityNews, AHS says it is implementing the strategy as they are running an operating deficit for the 2023/24 fiscal year.

AHS says restrictions on non-clinical hirings were put in place in January, noting they have been effective, however, more needs to be done to address the deficit.

As part of the strategy, “effective immediately until March 31, all recruitment of management and non-clinical support positions is paused,” according to AHS. Adding clinically focused or clinical support work positions will require DOHRA/DOFA Level 4 approval.

On Feb. 21, HSAA says they then received reports that AHS had cancelled recruitment for critical frontline healthcare positions.

“We are very concerned that just a few months into the restructuring of health care, commitments made by this government to health-care professionals are not being honoured, and addressing the staffing crisis is not the top priority,” said Leanne Alfaro, Vice-President of the Health Sciences Association of Alberta.

“When the government announced their plans to restructure health care, they were clear with HSAA and Albertans that they shared our concerns about staffing levels. The Minister of Health committed to working on increasing the frontlines of health care and made assurances that they were not planning any job losses.”

HSAA added that the province needs to do more to keep healthcare professionals and fill vacancies to reduce wait times across Alberta.

“Our question to the Minister of Health is simple,” continued Alfaro. “How can you be committed to addressing the staffing crisis and growing the frontline of health care when implementing a hiring freeze?”

HSAA wasn’t the only one raising concerns. Following the press release from HSAA, Friends of Medicare also released a statement raising their concerns.

“In the middle of an ongoing health care staffing crisis, this government is opting to freeze hiring. It’s ridiculous,” said Chris Gallaway, executive director of Friends of Medicare. “Shame on our provincial government. Leaving health care workers continuously short-staffed and overworked will simply drive more of them out of the health care system and out of Alberta, at a time when Albertans are already struggling to access the health care they need.”

Gallaway continued by saying, “We desperately need our government to be laser-focused on the frontline health care workforce. That means actually doing the necessary workforce planning, mapping it out, and developing a strategy to ensure that our health care system has all of the human resources needed to provide the care that patients in Alberta deserve.

“With so many health care workers openly contemplating leaving the system or the province, the government must prioritize a plan to retain those already working here, while moving full steam ahead with recruiting and hiring the skilled health care workers we so urgently need.”

Alberta’s health Minister Adriana LaGrange took to X in response, saying: “I want to clarify a recent decision by AHS regarding hiring procedures. AHS has brought in new approval measures for the hiring of management and non-clinical positions. New hiring for these positions will require CEO approval.”

LaGrange went on to add that the decision will have no impact on frontline or clinical health care workers.

“AHS is not cancelling recruitment for frontline health-care positions. As Minister of Health, I remain extremely thankful for the work of everyone in our health care system, especially on the front lines. I am committed to growing the workforce so Albertans get the best care possible when they need it most.”

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