Alberta government commits $158M in upcoming budget to address health care worker shortage

Health Minister Jason Copping announced Thursday that the province is promising $158 million in the upcoming budget to address Alberta’s health care worker shortage, as part of the government’s new Health Workforce Strategy.

“We still have significant health staffing issues now and we do have our projections — we’re still going to have issues in the future. So we need to address that,” Copping said.

A majority of the funding — $90 million — will go toward programs to recruit and retain rural physicians. Another $29 million will go toward serving rural and remote communities, as part of the province’s agreement with the Alberta Medical Association.

The province also plans to give $7 million to recruit internationally-trained nurses from the United States and United Kingdom, and another $1 million is to support nurses moving to Alberta. The province says more initiatives will be announced soon.

Copping said Alberta’s health care system is becoming more complex as the population grows.

“Things aren’t going to change overnight, but we have laid the foundation for a strong and sustainable health system that provides every Albertan with access to a health home,” he said. 

According to Copping, the new plan is built around five pillars: retain and support, attract, grow, strengthen and evolve. These will be addressed through new actions by the province.

He said those actions include creating new approaches to rural and remote care delivery and surgical staffing, more support for intensive care unit and emergency department staffing, dedicated immigration pathways, and more.

The announcement didn’t include targets for the number of staff they’re looking to hire, or dates the actions should be completed by.

The budget will be released on Feb. 28.

‘They need help now’

Bobby-Joe Borodey, vice-president of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE), which represents more than 62,000 health care workers, said this announcement isn’t enough to address the current staffing situation.

“In Alberta, we’ve reached the point at which it’s a crisis,”Borodey said. “Our members are telling us that they are exhausted, both physically and mentally. They are near burnout and they need help now.”

A woman wearing a black sweater, with the logo AUPE, slightly smiles beyond the camera.
Bobby-Joe Borodey is the vice-president of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, which represents 200,000 Alberta workers — 62,000 of which are health care workers. (Nick Brizuela/CBC)

She said despite the province’s previous efforts, the staffing shortage hasn’t improved.

“I think we’re actually worse off than we were during the pandemic, because we actually saw a mass exodus of those workers from the health care field because of the sacrifices they had to make during the pandemic.”

Borodey said she’d like to hear more details about how the funding commitment will help the system. In the meantime, she said she remains optimistic, but not confident.

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