BONNYVILLE – Local nurses and their supporters took to the streets of Bonnyville this week to make a stand against proposed healthcare cuts.
On Thursday, Feb. 13, about a dozen people held their signs high as they rallied at the Bonnyville Healthcare Centre to raise awareness about the crucial role nurses play, and the impact eliminating those positions would have.
“Registered nurses (RN) and registered psychiatric nurses (RPN) represented by the United Nurses of Alberta (UNA) will show their support for publicly-delivered healthcare and all the front-line workers who make it happen,” exclaimed Richel Brousseau, local UNA rep and registered nurse at the Bonnyville hospital.
In November, the UNA was informed Alberta Health Services (AHS) planned to eliminate roughly 500 full-time equivalent healthcare positions over the next three years. According to Brousseau, this could see as many as 750 RNs and RPNs laid off.
Formal bargaining between UNA and the province began on Jan. 15. The proposals included four years of pay freezes and massive rollbacks to the current nurses’ collective agreement.
“Eliminating nursing jobs contradicts all evidence of the best way to run a safe and effective healthcare system,” Brousseau stated.
Nurses from across the province showed solidarity for the cause, with 33 walks being held in 25 different communities including Bonnyville, Lac La Biche, Calgary, and St. Albert.
During the rally, Brousseau took a moment to share her story and stressed the importance of her profession.
After a family member was diagnosed with breast cancer, Brousseau watched as she was taken care of by total strangers that eventually became friends.
“These were the faces and hands that made her comfortable, eased her pain, and respected her body as she took her last breath. This is what drives my ambition, and passion to be a nurse. I strive to be a nurse that delivers that kind of care to every patient that enters my life,” she said.
Jessica McGrath got her start as a nurse in Bonnyville. Though she’s currently working in Edmonton, she made the trip back to show her support for her fellow RNs and protest the changes.
“I love the nurses here and they do such a great job. Rural nursing is such a different atmosphere. You learn so much and do so much. If the cuts get here, it’s going to be a completely different ball game for all of Alberta.”
McGrath believes the proposed changes would have negative impacts on all Albertans.
“People may think that ‘I’m not sick, it might not affect me.’ But, it’s wait times, your family members, it’s so many different things that are going to be affected, and it’s just going to be a ripple effect throughout Alberta,” she expressed. “It’s just so heartbreaking to me, because we go to school for four years to be a RN and all you want to do is help people. Then you get looked at like it doesn’t matter almost. We’re the first ones to get cut, so it’s pretty heartbreaking.”
Brousseau described the rollbacks AHS is proposing as the largest since 1988, when nurses in the province walked off the job for 19 days.
“Unfortunately, the cuts aren’t just coming for the nurses; they’re coming for our communities, especially rural ones like Bonnyville,” Brousseau said. “Proposed changes like closing down rural labour and delivery units, ceasing all elective surgeries, and creating a market for privatization is what our communities and members are facing. We encourage all members of the community to take a serious look at the changes being proposed and to be informed prior to needing care.”
As nurses are a vital part of the healthcare system, Brousseau was glad to see the support during the rally considering the colder temperatures.
“We hoped to inform our community members, to be valued by our community, and to protect our right to public healthcare.”