By Jasmine Franklin
“Oh where, oh where, have our security guards gone? Oh where, oh where, can they be?”
Ponoka’s streets were filled with the sounds of about 100 voices joining forces March 26 to stand up against the loss of full-time security staff in our hospitals.
People watched from their homes and vehicles as concerned residents waved signs through the air reading “Keep our nursing staff safe,” and “Security cuts bite!”
“I’m going to be scared of going to work some nights,” said Jennifer Kirwan, night nurse for Ponoka’s General Hospital. “We will be the ones who open the doors to patients at night and there really is that fear of who is coming through the door.”
A rally against Alberta Health Services’ (AHS) decision to replace six full-time in-hospital security staff with two roaming security patrols brought out between 100 and 120 people. Among those, were Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) vice president Jason Heistad, Friends of Medicare’s David Eggen, nurses, security staff, concerned residents and councillor John Jacobs.
“We live in one of the richest jurisdictions in North America, we have the capacity to provide high-quality public health care to everyone in this province,” Eggen said to the crowd. “We came down from Edmonton today to show our support for rural communities and hospitals that will be effected by this decision. We are seeing this system (roaming security) fail in Edmonton right now — it’s created an unstable situation and it is not a decision that was based on maintaining the quality of our hospital, staff and security.”
The roaming security officers would be responsible for patrolling Central Alberta regions including Ponoka, Calgary and rural Edmonton. Local RCMP would also be in charge of responding to hospital calls. By switching to this system, AHS said $6 million will be saved each year.
Kirwan and fellow registered nurse, Michelle Shewchuk said the slow reaction time will be a problem. With only about five nurses on staff during the nights, the two firmly stated that Alberta Health’s decision is putting themselves and others at risk.
“The security staff do a lot of work! They lock our doors, sit in with aggressive patients, help clear the heliport for STARS, conduct roaming patrols around hospital grounds, maintain the boiler rooms and help us out when we need supplies,” Shewchuk said. “This is going to create more work for nurses in an unsafe environment — especially in rural hospitals. We have narcotics all the time, how safe is that for us?”
Heistad told the Ponoka News that the rally is really to raise the issue of safety for the staff.
“It’s not about the money at all,” he said. “It’s about our staff! We really need to send the message to Ray Prins that people will not put up with this — the turn out for such a small community today is unreal.”
Mark Graham, security guard for Ponoka General Hospital, Centennial Centre and Wetaskiwin hospital said the loss of security in hospitals will be a big mistake.
“(Nurses) are not properly trained to handle out-of-control patients. By making the nurses attend to situations reduces the amount of nurses on staff that attend to patients,” Graham said. “My concern with roaming security is that most of the time these people are being paid for being on the road driving between the sites rather than actually being at the site performing the service they’re being paid for. Save our security.”
Coun. John Jacobs said he was pleased to see residents supporting their security staff.
“I think this is important to our community,” Jacobs said. “From what I’m hearing there will be some real problems if we lose our security at the hospital.”
Jacobs said the town has no jurisdiction in the matter but talking to officials on the provincial level would be of use.
Last week, Tony Weeks — executive director for protective and parking services with AHS, said if the new system does not work, an alternative plan can be developed. Weeks also said the decision was made for the well being of the province.
“We had to look through a provincial lens as well as the local lens,” Weeks said. “We have 133 health sites in Alberta and we were only reaching 58 of those sites. Without spending more money and trying to balance, this will allow us to reach all areas of the region.”
“The turnout today says a lot about the Ponoka area,” Heistad said. “They made it very clear that they do not want their security taken away.”
Heistad said president of AUPE, Guy Smith, was in talks with Health Minister Gene Zwozdesky March 26 to express his concerns.