Gov't action urgently needed amid deaths of AB health care workers

January 7, 2021
EDMONTON

Government action urgently needed amid deaths of AB health care workers

On behalf of Friends of Medicare’s board and staff, as well as our members and supporters across Alberta, we would like to extend our condolences to the family, friends and health care colleagues of the three health care providers who have now died from COVID-19. The devastating loss of these workers marks a crucial moment at which this government must act expediently to fulfil their responsibility to prevent any further deaths. 

“Emotional platitudes from this government are simply not good enough,” says Sandra Azocar, Executive Director of Friends of Medicare. “We need to see immediate action if we are to avoid any further loss of life among our vital front line workers at all levels. An injury to one is an injury to all, and Alberta will be suffering this loss for a long time to come.”

The tragic deaths of these three Albertans has made it even more immediate that all health care workers who put themselves at great risk everyday receive COVID-19 vaccinations without delay. We also call for paid sick leave for all those who must self isolate. Workers continue to be required to use their sick days when they must self-isolate, and when sick leave is used up, they are told to apply for Canadian Emergency Response Benefits. Many health care workers are being left without pay if they need to isolate, meaning many are forced to continue to go to work because they can’t afford to stay home.

What’s worse is that Alberta’s contact-tracing system collapsed months ago, and so we are unable to know with certainty all sources of infection when health care workers contract COVID-19. Under current Workers Compensation Act legislation, an inability to prove the source of infection permits the government to deny workers the supports they need.

“It’s unacceptable that we are requiring the health care workers of this province, the very people who have been risking their own safety for the sake of their patients each and every day, to continue to work without any expectation that they will in turn receive the care they need if they contract the virus,” says Azocar. “This must be a wake up call to our government that their inaction is putting not only our health care workers, but their families and patients in danger.”

In addition to our call for expedited vaccinations for front-line health care workers, and paid sick leave for all workers, we demand that the government immediately recognize and accept that workers who acquire the virus caught it at work, by including it in the presumptive clause of the Workers’ Compensation Act. COVID-19 must be included in the definition of Occupational Disease in the regulations of the Workers’ Compensation Act, so that workers can receive coverage from the Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB).

“Nothing can bring these people back. But their colleagues and their loved ones deserve assurance that this government is doing everything necessary to ensure that this tragedy is not repeated,” says Azocar. “We can’t say whether or not these deaths were preventable, but the loss of three workers in less than two weeks plainly shows that this province has not done nearly enough to protect our health care workers or the Albertans who rely on them.”