Duckett: “Nursing’s future is not in nursing’s hands”

Alberta Health Services CEO Stephen Duckett convened a meeting of nursing leaders from AHS, educational institutions and the three nursing regulatory colleges to “engage stakeholders in identifying ways to change.” Representing CARNA were President Joan Petruk and Complaints Director/Director of Conduct Susan Chandler.

Both Duckett and AHS SVP Nursing Strategies Andrea Robertson alluded to significant changes for the role of the registered nurse (RN). “RN work will be different,” stated Robertson. Duckett cited a number of studies and referred to a study at Toronto East General. “Studies,” he said, “are good, action is better.” Both Duckett and Robertson referred to the proposed new model of nursing care by referring to an aircraft carrier as an analogy for efficiency, reliability and safety. They emphasized their appreciation for the organizational performance of aircraft carriers where each employee has a specific role, knows it and performs it alongside other team members to achieve a goal.

The reference to Toronto East General caught CARNA's attention. The Registered Nurses Association of Ontario (RNAO) has raised the alarm on the nursing staffing model in the study. Several acclaimed nurse researchers have criticized the study's legitimacy and the model for sacrificing continuity of care and continuity of caregiver. The model bears a strong resemblance to an abandoned model of care that many of our members may remember called “team nursing.” RNAO has posted a wealth of information on its website

Robertson confirmed what we'd already heard: over the next 12- 18 months, AHS intends to hire less than 40 per cent of nurse graduates, layoff RNs and offer voluntary retirement packages to others. A presentation describing the proposed new model of care was unclear. We do hear that the model will be first introduced in Edmonton at University of Alberta Hospital and followed by Peter Lougheed Hospital in Calgary. Significantly, AHS has asked the University of Alberta faculty of business to evaluate the model which, to most nurses, would suggest that the model is centered on savings rather than safety.

We were assured that, while AHS is facing financial pressures, the shortage of nurses is real and that there was “a lot of opportunity to work together.” Unfortunately, at the meeting's close, it was unclear how AHS might tap into the nursing expertise in the room to assist with the “redesign and transformation” of the nursing workforce. We are not sure what to make of the following remark uttered by Duckett during the meeting, “Nursing's future is not in nursing's hands.”

Moving forward, CARNA Executive Director Mary-Anne Robinson is scheduled to meet with Alberta Health and Wellness Minister Ron Liepert. Patient safety tops her agenda of topics for discussion. Nationally, Petruk is headed to Ottawa in early December to rally support from nurse leaders from across Canada who are increasingly concerned with the direction Alberta is taking to reform health care. RNs outside Alberta recognize that what happens in Alberta is not likely to stay in Alberta.