The president of the New Brunswick Nurses’ Federation says the latest warning for people to stay away from two of the county’s major emergency departments isn’t just because the nurses are on leave — it’s because of constant fatigue and vacancies within the health system.
On Friday, August 26, the Horizon Health Network asked patients with non-life-threatening medical needs not to come to Moncton Hospital or Saint John Regional Hospital, “as they did not have the capacity to triage and care for these patients.”
She referred to the cause as a “critical shortage of nursing”.
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Paula Doucet said the situation facing the two hospitals is something the Federation has warned the Health Ministry leadership for some time.
Margaret Melanson, CEO of Interim Horizon Health Network, said the nurse shortage was due to the holidays and the big concert in Dieppe this weekend, but also due to COVID-19-related absences.
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Doucet says that is a far cry from reality.
“Unfortunately, the public announcement about that was not taken well by many of the members that I represent because they felt they were being underestimated by the prospect of some vacation,” she said.
She said the leave any nurse takes is “worth it.”
“I think any time a company talks about their employees taking time off that affects service, there’s a bigger problem,” she said. “The many years we’ve been talking about this severe nursing shortage that we’re in now, and that by doing nothing to alleviate it, it’s leading us to where we are today.”
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On August 18, the Health Authority celebrated the hiring of 1,300 health care workers, with more than 50 percent of nursing staff since April 1. However, in that time they have lost 662 employees due to retirements and resignations. and terminations, leaving a net gain of 638 employees over the past four months.
Melanson promised there would be a noticeable change on the front lines “within weeks”.
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For Dusit, working conditions, which are still poor, mean that more nurses are likely to leave. That means many New Brunswickers will go without the health care they deserve, she explained.
“We know there are 63,000 New Brunswickers without a primary care provider. This is not a nurse practitioner, nor a family physician, nor health care access,” she said. “The only point of access is the emergency department. So, regardless, if their problem is life threatening or a long-term illness, they have health care rights in New Brunswick, in Canada, and we are not meeting that need.”
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Staffing is good, Doucette said, but training nurses to move into departments like the emergency and ICU takes time and direction, which the system doesn’t allow, in its current capacity.
“Being thrown into a high-risk area without guidance and training is a very frightening situation not only for you as a professional but for the patients you are entrusted with,” she said.
The nurses are also dealing with bad morale, she said.
“The nurses are fed up, they are exhausted,” she said. “In some cases, they feel like they’re frustrated. They feel like they’re getting the short end of the stick. They get criticized.”
Doucette said the nurses were on the front lines and it was time for those tough conversations, which should include nurses and doctors.
“We are having a hard time providing health care as it is now,” she said. “We need to set short-term, medium-term and long-term goals (that will get us out of the mess we’re in in healthcare right now.”
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