May 23, 2024

Holistic Pulse

Healthcare is more important

Calgary lost more than 20,000 health-care, social workers in 2023

5 min read

The numbers are a stark contrast to Edmonton, which added more than 16,000 people to its health-care and social assistance workforce in 2023

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Calgary’s health-care and social assistance workforce dropped by about 20,700 people in 2023, according to Statistics Canada labour force data, while Edmonton and the rest of Alberta each gained more than 20,000 workers in the same sector.

Statistics Canada data updated in early January show Calgary went from having nearly 122,000 health-care and social assistance workers in January 2023 to about 101,000 in December.

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The numbers are a stark contrast to Edmonton, which increased its number of health-care and social workers, going from about 108,100 to 124,400 workers. The same data show Lethbridge increased its working population in the sector, going from about 10,500 to 12,700 workers.

Those figures from StatCan’s December 2023 labour force survey are on a three-month moving average and unadjusted for seasonality. While month-to-month jobs results for specific cities can come with significant variance due to lower sample sizes surveyed, Edmonton and Calgary’s numbers are “too opposite to blame volatility in the data,” said Charles St-Arnaud, chief economist at Alberta Central and former economist at the Bank of Canada.

“It’s just striking,” St-Arnaud said of Calgary’s numbers.

The wide-ranging category includes ambulatory health-care services, hospitals, nursing and residential care facilities, along with social assistance services such as counselling, welfare, and child protection.

Calgary’s health-care workforce has steadily grown since 2013, but hasn’t been immune to sharp drops. StatCan data, seasonally adjusted by Haver Analytics, shows Calgary’s workforce has peaked twice since early 2021, but dropped sharply in late 2023.

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Overall in 2023, workers in health occupations, with the exception of management roles, increased by 2,700 people to 193,000 people, according to Alberta’s annual labour statistics.

Calgary health-care workers
The number of health-care and social assistance workers in Calgary between 2013 and 2023, adjusted for seasonal changes. Photo by Courtesy Charles St-Arnaud

Alberta’s Ministry of Health said in a Feb. 13 statement to Postmedia that the “numbers on the StatsCan site do not accurately reflect the increase in frontline health care workers our province has seen in recent years.”

The province said since 2019 Alberta has added 700 physicians and nearly 8,500 staff in Alberta Health Services. It said Alberta has added 300 nurses since January 2023.

It did not include Calgary-specific data.

The Alberta Medical Association and United Nurses of Alberta (UNA) were unavailable for comment on Thursday. The Health Sciences Association of Alberta did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Conference Board of Canada estimates Calgary welcomed more than 71,000 newcomers in 2023. St-Arnaud predicts that number is upwards of 84,000 people.

Official migration data for Canadian cities won’t be reported by StatCan until later this year.

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UNA last December raised alarm bells over potential reductions in positions after it received a letter from Alberta Health Services warning organizational changes could include “reductions in positions within UNA’s AHS bargaining unit” as a result of Alberta’s sweeping restructuring of its health-care system.

Last April, well before the AHS restructuring was announced, the province said it was making changes to its Alberta Advantage Immigration Program (AAIP) to expedite the flow of international workers to the province, focusing specifically on health-care workers.

In doing so, the province said it was dedicating a new pathway for medical professionals who have a job offer from an Alberta health-care sector employer.

“We’ll help health-care sector employers in any Alberta community meet their labour needs faster,” said Rajan Sawhney, then-minister of Trade, Immigration and Multiculturalism.

The province also announced last February it was promising a $158-million program to shore up rural health-care staffing shortages.

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