Skip to content

Nursing staff complain of 'burnout'

Barrhead nurses told Health Minister Gene Zwozdesky they are suffering from “burnout” and need extra staff. They also complained about the amount of paperwork they have to deal with and the quality of food served to patients.

Barrhead nurses told Health Minister Gene Zwozdesky they are suffering from “burnout” and need extra staff.

They also complained about the amount of paperwork they have to deal with and the quality of food served to patients.

Another area of frustration was a seemingly overly bureaucratic process in problem solving.

“There are too many different layers,” one nurse. “Decisions are being made, but none of our concerns go back up. We can’t get problems fixed.”

Zwozdesky, Alberta Health and Wellness Minister, pledged to address concerns at Barrhead Healthcare Centre.

He said that a savings drive has had a negative impact on healthcare in the area, but actions were being taken to remedy this.

It should “not be rocket science” to tackle the staffing issue, he added.

“We are going to have to ramp this up,” he said.

Tuesday’s meeting took place in the healthcare centre cafeteria. Accompanying Zwozdesky were MLA for Barrhead-Morinville-Westlock, Ken Kowalski, and Senior Vice President, North Zone, Alberta Health Services, Shelly Pusch.

Zwozdesky and Kowalski were on a fact-finding visit to health facilities in Morinville, Westlock, Barrhead and Swan Hill.

At Barrhead they were greeted by Hospital Manager, Heather Thompson, and taken on a 15-minute tour of the hospital.

Then they spent 45 minutes having lunch and speaking to staff. About 40 physicians and nurses were present.

Zwozdesky, who took notes throughout the meeting, said he had visited some wonderful facilities during his tour, but also heard concerns about the recruitment and retention of physicians and support staff.

He added that moves were already under way to improve Alberta’s health care system. These were outlined in the Health Action Plan.

“It is our road map over the next five years,” he said. “We are in year two of it.”

Zwozdesky said the road map contained specific actions and 50 performance measures to support strategies designed to develop the best-performing publicly funded health system in Canada.

“We have five years of guaranteed funding to make this happen,” he said. “We have set clear benchmarks.”

Asked when staff could expect to see improvements in local input, Zwozdesky pointed to the establishment of Health Advisory Councils.

These were designed to engage members of the community and take on board concerns, he said.

Several nurses complained about being overworked and understaffed. It became the dominant theme of the meeting.

“We always hear about restructuring, but it seems just like spinning wheels,” one nurse said. “We are getting burned out and tired.”

Another said: “We have just a barebones staff on the weekends.”

Nursing supervisor Linda Wolfram said the understaffing issue had been dragging on for years.

“We are working as hard as we can,” she added.

Staff also questioned why they were now expected to deal with healthcare procurement - the acquisition of medical and surgical supplies. This was tying them up with time-consuming paperwork.

Wolfram said staff were being taken away from their nursing duties.

Nurses went on to criticize the food being served to patients, saying it was not fresh and needed to be homemade.

“We get a lot of complaints about it,” a nurse said. “People are not even eating it and leaving it on their trays.”

She added that some patients were having problems opening juice bottles, resulting in spillages.

After the meeting, Wolfram said she had been impressed by the attentiveness of Zwozdesky.

“I hope now we will see results,” she said.

Wolfram said the healthcare centre needed an extra nurse on each shift, which would make “a huge difference”, and the hiring of a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN).

The main reason why the centre was so busy, dealing with more than 20,000 emergencies each year, was a lack of physicians, she added.

“People just go to us instead, which is putting us under enormous strain,” she said.

Wolfram said changes to the procurement system were also creating an unnecessary burden on nurses. Previously the duty had fallen to the stores clerk.

Earlier, Zwozdesky and Kowalski visited Aspen House, Morinville, before driving to Westlock Health Centre where they were met by Shelly Pusch and had talks with doctors.

After leaving Barrhead they visited Swan Hills Healthcare Centre.

Kowalski said Wednesday that Barrhead was not alone in suffering from a shortage of doctors.

“There is a worldwide shortage. Everywhere you go everybody is competing against one another to get doctors.”

Kowalski said Barrhead used to have 12 or 13 doctors, but the number had dwindled to eight, whereas Westlock currently had 16.

This led to the Barrhead emergency department having to cope with 22,000 cases a year.

“That is an incredible number,” he said. “If people are going to emergency rather than visiting a doctor’s clinic then it is putting extra pressure on nurses. We don’t have that problem in Westlock.”

Kowalski believed there was a lack of internal decision making in the Alberta Health Services.

Complaints about the procurement process and the quality of food should be dealt with at a local management level, he said, adding it was very frustrating for the MLA and the Minister to hear about them.

Kowalski agreed with the Minister that there were some wonderful facilities in the district.