Health worker left 'in the dark' about critical worker benefit details from AHS

A health care worker says lack of communication or direction from Alberta Health Services (AHS) is leaving many employees confused about the critical worker benefit.

Hospital staff member says AHS has not communicated the details of the benefit to him and other employees

A Foothills Medical Centre employee says AHS has done a poor job communicating details of the critical worker benefit. (CBC)

A health care worker says lack of communication or direction from Alberta Health Services (AHS) is leaving many employees confused about the critical worker benefit.

Hrafn Haugr, an administrative support worker at Foothill Medical Centre, has been waiting for a month for updates from AHS regarding his eligibility for the government benefit.

He says there has been no clarity about whether he qualifies, how the application process would proceed and how the money will be paid out — and he's concerned others could miss out on the money because of the confusion.  

"Being kept out of the loop and completely in the dark about this is just incredibly frustrating. And it speaks to a certain level of disrespect that AHS and the government have for health care workers."

The provincial government is making one-time payments of $1,200 available to 380,000 frontline pandemic workers. Alberta is covering about 25 per cent of the cost, while the remainder of the $465-million program is supplied by the federal government. 

Public, private and non-profit sector employees who work in health, education, grocery, continuing care and transportation are eligible for the payment if they worked 300 hours or more from October to January and earn $25 an hour or less. 

As an administrative support worker, Haugr should be eligible for the benefit based on the government's criteria documents for the health care sector. But he cannot apply as an individual and must wait for direction from AHS on benefit rollout.

AHS working with government on benefit details

At the beginning of March he called the human resources department, who he said told him that there was no additional information available besides what was on the government website. He was directed to call the province's helpline, which then told him they couldn't provide more information but that he would likely qualify. 

Haugr says the government phone operator told him they'd already received six similar calls that day from AHS workers in the same situation. 

"It's not just that my particular department is getting missed on info on this. It's where no one in AHS is getting told anything," he said. 

Confusion over eligibility for the program has already caused headaches for those in the non-profit sector, and health-care worker unions have also expressed concern that they don't understand which of their members are considered "critical workers" under the definition of the program. 

AHS says it informed all staff about eligibility and is developing a process to make sure those eligible are notified and receive the benefit through the existing payroll system. 

However, Haugr disputed that and said AHS has not given updates about which of their workers will receive the benefit, or how, since the initial announcement of the program in early February. 

He said he's concerned that some employees who should receive the payment will fall through the cracks because of the confusion and disorganization. 

Haugr has contacted his MP and the provincial health minister looking for answers. 

"I'm not really sure what next steps there are beyond hassling the poor people at human resources here, because the government can't give me an answer."

AHS says it is working with the government to confirm the timing of the benefit, and that the timeline won't impact someone's eligibility. The organization added that all staff eligible for the benefit, per government criteria, will be able to access it. 

The application process for private employers ends on March 19. Health sector employers will have until March 31. 


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