Nurses early collective action in Alberta

Although nurses taking collective, union-style action is a relatively modern thing, nurses have historically been willing to stand up for themselves. As Janet C. Ross-Kerr noted in her excellent history of nursing in Alberta, Prepared to Care nurses banding together to protect themselves and their patients goes right back to the early days of the province.

By 1913, Edmonton and Strathcona had joined together to finance a separate isolation hospital for people stricken by some of the many contagious diseases like typhoid that were endemic. The isolation hospital was under the authority of the Medical Officer of Health. But a dispute over job descriptions and wages broke out between the Officer and the nurses at the hospital. The nurses marched to City Hall and met with the mayor. The conflict resulted in the firing of the superintendent of nurses and the hospital moving to the control of a municipal hospital board.

Even earlier, in 1895, nurses provoked the province's first "medicare" controversy at the Edmonton Grey Nuns, one of Alberta's first hospitals. Ross-Kerr points out that a dispute arose "relative to the professional relationship between the nuns and the physicians who cared for patients in the Hospital." The doctors of the hospital wanted to control when non-paying patients to the hospital should be admitted. They also wanted to not have to serve as physicians to these non-paying patients. The nuns, who of course served in the role of nurses, felt it their duty and right to admit patients who needed the care, whether they had money or not. The doctors said the nuns might "unknowingly admit an infections case to a public ward..." but that argument was quickly debunked by a letter in a local newspaper by Father LeDuc. The nuns kept the right to admit patients.