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Ottawa hospital asks 'discouraged' Alberta health-care workers to come east

The CHEO emergency entrance on Oct. 19, 2022. CHEO is the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario in Ottawa. (Francis Ferland/CBC - image credit)
The CHEO emergency entrance on Oct. 19, 2022. CHEO is the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario in Ottawa. (Francis Ferland/CBC - image credit)

As Alberta's health-care unions continue to warn of a staffing crisis, an Ontario hospital CEO is continuing to make his pitch for health-care workers in the Prairie province to take their careers east.

Twice this month, Alex Munter, the CEO of the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) in Ottawa, has directed his recruitment efforts at Alberta health-care workers.

The latest post came Monday. Munter tagged Alberta Health Services workers, saying: "If you feel discouraged because you're being blamed for health-care problems rather than being thanked for 2½ years of tireless work.… We'd welcome your dedication and expertise at CHEO!"

Munter continued to make his pitch Tuesday in an interview on the Calgary Eyeopener.

"In Canada, we have not planned adequately for an aging workforce and increased demand in the health system," he said.

"So what we're doing here is we are really reaching out everywhere, and that includes Alberta, and you know, there's a lot of changes coming to Alberta Health Services from the sounds of it and those may not suit everybody."

The offers come as Alberta hospitals continue to struggle with staffing shortages, according to five unions representing more than 120,000 health-care workers in the province.

On Monday, the United Nurses of Alberta (UNA), the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE), the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), the Health Sciences Association of Alberta (HSAA) and Friends of Medicare (FOM) called on Health Minister Jason Copping to meet with them.

They said they want to partner with his ministry to develop a plan focused on retaining and recruiting more staff and improving working conditions.

"We've got to stop the bloodletting and try to stabilize our workforce," said Heather Smith, UNA president.

"It is not surprising that we have forced, I would suggest to you, many health-care workers, whether that's physicians or nurses or others, to consider whether Alberta is a place they want to practice simply because of the disrespect that they have experienced."

At the UCP's annual general meeting on Saturday, Premier Danielle Smith suggested the province's staffing problems are a result of poor decision-making, including vaccine mandates, by Alberta Health Services.

She's vowed to restructure leadership at AHS before the end of the year.

"Once the world knows as well that we aren't going to have vaccine mandates, I suspect that those who have been fired in other jurisdictions will know that they will have a home here," she said.

LISTEN | CHEO CEO Alex Munter explains why he wants Alberta health-care workers to come to Ontario:

Munter says he has heard from people in the province who are feeling "disrespected," and his posts are a way of reminding them that they have options.

"This is a sellers' market … I want to stay on their radar," he said.

'We are struggling'

In an emailed statement, Steve Buick, press secretary for the minister of health, said better access to health care is the minister's No. 1 priority.

"We're working to rebuild the health workforce, which is under strain across Canada and in other countries," he said.

"We need to do more and act faster to get more staff into the system. Now that Minister Copping has been re-appointed and sworn in … he's working on plans to do that, building on the work that's been done to date."

Buick added that Copping has met with leaders of the UNA, AUPE and HSAA in the past year, and he'd be happy to meet with them again.

CBC
CBC

But the unions say not enough is being done to retain health-care professionals in the province right now.

"We need to make Alberta a preferred employer so that we can recruit and train more people to take on these health-care roles," said Mike Parker, president of the Health Sciences Association of Alberta.

"We care about every patient we see, and we want to be there for them in their time of need, but we are struggling."

Staff shortages over the past few months have led to temporary closures at several Alberta emergency departments. The latest happened Monday, when the Milk River Emergency Department closed because there were no available physicians. It will reopen on Wednesday.

Dr. James Talbot, former chief medical officer of health for Alberta, says health-care workers have worked tirelessly to take care of patients over the past three years, but some may be considering whether they should take their talents elsewhere.

"They stuck it out in the best, you know, traditions of their professions until the very end. But now they're making decisions as to whether or not they want to stay in a place that doesn't seem to appreciate them," he said in an interview on the Calgary Eyeopener.

"I think, unfortunately, the comments of the premier … are just making that situation worse."

It all presents an opportunity for Munter, who says he has hundreds of vacancies to fill.

"I'm trying to drum up interest. I think there may be interest in Alberta."