More than two months after about 80 workers took to the picket lines outside a Riverbend extended care facility, they will return to work.

The province said Tuesday that the labour dispute between members of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) and Revera Inc., the company that operates the Revera Retirement Living-Riverbend, has been referred to binding arbitration, and a Public Emergency Tribunal (PET).

Because of the PET, the strike and lockout at the facility has ended – and workers are expected to return to work immediately.

According to the province, Alberta Health Services has inspected the facility daily since the strike began, and on August 8, an AHS review showed the quality of care for the 120 residents at the nursing home had been compromised.

The province cited missing information on medical charts, medication not being administered correctly, and cleanliness issues as a few of the deficiencies found by health officials.

“We hear the quality has gone down,” Donna Taylor, a staff member at Revera Riverbend said. “The food, the sanitation, we’ve seen the health board coming in every week. So yes, there are problems in there.”

The dispute, which started on June 5, was referred to the PET by Human Services Minister Dave Hancock, from recommendations from Health Minister Fred Horne.

The deficiencies were discovered after Margaret Green died – on August 4 the resident complained of a sore throat and mini-strokes to friends. It was alleged her pleas for help were ignored by replacement workers.

The province said the strike had no connection to Green’s death.

“Her quality of care was not impacted in any way that could be related to her passing,” Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk said.

However, union officials believe Green’s story finally pushed the province to take measures to end the work stoppage.

“It’s interesting, we get a public emergency tribunal a day after some news hits about the unfortunate incident, and the passing of a resident,” AUPE negotiator Dale Perry said.

Both sides will have 21 days to try and reach an agreement, with the assistance of a government-appointed mediator.

If the dispute is not settled by that time, the PET will make a full inquiry, and issue terms that would be binding to both sides, and will be included in their collective agreement.

With files from Serena Mah