UNA and AHS continue effort to improve northern care through travel nursing program

United Nurses of Alberta and Alberta Health Services have agreed to extend their successful northern travel nursing agreement until the end of 2020 in a continuing effort to help nurses, improve care in the province’s north and save taxpayers money.

Extension of the agreement, which was first signed in 2012 to operate in a limited number of remote northern Alberta communities, helps AHS maintain appropriate staffing levels and services in a geographically large region where recruitment and retention can present challenges to health care employers.

In addition, the agreement between the employer and the union enables AHS to meet such additional staffing needs as augmentation, education and mentorship while providing employees with time off entitlements including vacations, time off in lieu of overtime, named holidays and so on.

Since the province historically relied on the expensive services of private nursing agencies to fill the need in such locations, the UNA-AHS agreement has provided significant cost savings for taxpayers.

Nurses who have been involved praise the program for allowing them to experience a diversified nursing practice in a dramatically different setting from their home facilities, to work to their full scope of practice, and to travel in a unique and beautiful region of the province.

The North Zone RN/RPN Locum Program was extended to cover all communities in the zone in April 2015, as well as to extend beyond hospital settings to include public health and home care nursing. Today it covers 115 sites in 40 communities. The latest extension of the agreement, which was signed off by UNA at the end of September, acknowledges that its success to date has increased the demand for a larger pool of RNs and RPNs to meet the needs of the entire zone.

Accordingly, AHS and UNA have agreed to a new recruitment strategy to try to increase the pool of qualified nurses who participate, including the recruitment of nurses in other provinces who become temporary UNA members during their stay in northern Alberta.

The new strategy includes special travel nursing pages on the AHS Website that may be viewed at careers.ahs.ca.

Travel nursing assignments – formally named after the term “locum tenens,” Latin for “temporary substitute” – enable Registered Nurses and Registered Psychiatric Nurses working elsewhere to pick a temporary assignment for a set period of time. Participating nurses who are members of UNA have the right to return to their previous jobs or casual status after their northern assignment ends.

Joining the North Zone travel nursing pool brings incentives, including a premium payment of $6 per hour paid throughout the temporary posting, and reimbursement for daily living and travel expenses, accommodation provided by AHS, and all pay and benefits the employee is entitled to receive under the Provincial Collective Agreement. There is also a 2-per-cent long-service payment for those who qualify.

The program also continues to include benefits for nurses on permanent AHS work assignments in the affected region to ensure everyone is treated fairly. North Zone travel nursing placements typically run for approximately three to six weeks. However, the time frame is flexible, with no formalized maximum term. Assignments are based on experience, specialization, availability and location preference. Practice settings include Acute Care, Emergency, Intensive Care, Operating Room, Obstetrics, Pediatrics, Continuing Care, Home Care, Public Health and Psychiatry.

Nurses working permanently in locations experiencing problems accessing vacation time, banked overtime, or statutory holidays because of understaffing are urged to ask their supervisors if they are aware of the program.

To learn more about the North Zone RN/RPN Locum Program, search “Travel Nurse” at careers.ahs.ca or email NZ.RNLocum@ahs.ca.