It took more than a year of negotiations but Alberta's 26,000 nurses finally have a new contract.

Members of the United Nurses of Alberta (UNA) overwhelmingly ratified the new four-year deal Thursday and union officials say the support is a sign of the union members' support for the new contract.

"The very strong vote in favour of this agreement indicates how happy UNA's members are with the result of this round of bargaining," said UNA vice-president Daphne Wallace in a news release.

The agreement, which applies to registered nurses and registered psychiatric nurses, includes a $2,000 lump sum payment for 2013-2014, a $1,000 lump sum payment and a two per cent salary increase for 2014-2015, a $1,000 lump sum payment and 2.25 per cent salary increase for 2015-2016 and a three per cent salary increase for 2016-2017.

However, the nurses union says the negotiations weren't just about the money.

The union predicts the deal will improve patient care by providing safer environments and better nurse-patient ratios.

The deal also provides assurance that there will be no overall reduction in nurses and contains a promise from Alberta Health Services (AHS) to address nurses' workplace concerns.

"That's a positive because it ensures that patients are getting quality care," said Diane Lantz, a registered nurse and UNA negotiator. "There are tons of studies out there that say that registered nurse care gives better outcomes. There's less infections, there are shorter stays and the patient does better."

Deal allows for 'continuity of care'

Alberta Health Services says is also welcomes the deal and stressed that it will benefit patients because hospitals will be able to hire more full-time nurses.

"This just allows for us to have continuity of care," said Colleen Turner, vice-president of communtiy engagement and communications for AHS. "It takes any potential labour unrest out of the equation for a number of years."

Turner says the deal is fair to both nurses and taxpayers.

Health officials say they can afford increased the increased wages and that the bump in salaries will help retain and recruit nurses.

As of next year, Alberta nurses will be the highest paid in the country if other provinces don't hike their wages.