Employers beg workers to cross COVID-19 lines and risk spreading virus
EDMONTON – The single-site order for workers created to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in continuing-care facilities is on the verge of collapse in the midst of a staffing crisis, says the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE).
The union has uncovered an Alberta Health document (see attached document) that gives nine continuing-care sites exemptions to the single site rule in the space of only one week.
“The government introduced the rule in April because it was seen as a vital tool to save lives and prevent the spread of COVID-19 between continuing-care facilities,” says Susan Slade, vice-president of AUPE, which represents more than 90,000 workers, including more than 58,000 health-care workers at public, private and not-for-profit health care providers.
“Continuing-care operators are abandoning this rule because they cannot find enough workers to care for the residents,” says Slade. “Employers are begging our members to work at second sites to relieve the staffing crisis created by so many workers getting infected or having to isolate. They are being told they can move between sites with outbreaks and without outbreaks if they are not symptomatic, even though we know that the virus can be spread by people without symptoms.”
In April, when introducing the single-site rule, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said: “We know we have a problem with cases in long-term care facilities. We have several outbreaks and we are doing everything we can to prevent any more outbreaks and to deal with the ones that we currently have.”
Slade says: “Dr. Hinshaw and the Alberta government must answer this question: If the single-site rule was saving lives before, how many Albertans in continuing care will die with it being abandoned? We have nine exemptions in one week. How many will it be next week?”
The document listing the sites being given exemptions is not available of the Alberta government COVID-19 portal. “Albertans have a right to know what decisions are being taken. This important information should not be kept secret,” says Slade.
“Workers are receiving desperate pleas from employers to volunteer to work at multiple sites. They are being asked to go into facilities where the virus is rampant and then to return to their original site, with no period of isolation, and risk spreading the virus further,” she says.
“Our members are scared and exhausted, but they are doing everything they can to care for residents, but putting this burden entirely on their shoulders will not work,” says Slade. “This is not sustainable, and yet we see no leadership for the government on how to tackle this staffing and care crisis.”
As of Monday, there were 395 active COVID-19 cases at continuing-care facilities, with 236 facility residents having died. A total of 2,633 health-care workers have been infected, with 422 active cases.
AUPE vice-president Susan Slade is available for interviews.
Please contact Terry Inigo-Jones, AUPE Communications Officer 403-831-4394