60 per cent of Canadian nurses leaving career within the next year: union president

By Stephen Wentzell

About 30 people turned out to the Nova Scotia Nurses' Union office on Friday morning for a rally aimed at shedding light on worsening nursing shortages in the province.

The Done Asking rally protested the lack of government action to fix the critical nursing shortage and encouraged the province's new premier, Tim Houston, to make urgently needed improvements to Nova Scotia’s health care system.

Four unions represent nurses in the province and members from all here on hand as Janet Hazelton, head of the Nova Scotia Nurses' Union, hosted. She says core staffing levels have not changed since she became president in 2002. 

“Is it because we're predominantly women,” Hazelton asked. She says 84 per cent of nursing staff called resources insufficient before the pandemic even started. She says 60 per cent of nurses have made the decision to change careers within the next year.

According to Hazelton, there are currently 23 nurse practitioner vacancies, 231 unfilled LPN positions, and a shortage of around 1,100 registered nurses. As a result, Hazelton says there's been a 78 per cent increase in overtime shifts for nurses. 

When nurses appear on the Sunshine List, which features earners over $100,000 in the province, Hazelton says it's because they're working so much overtime. She says 

“They have no choice when they finish their 12 hour shift in an ICU and they're either too busy or their replacement isn't there,” Hazelton explained. “They have to stay, they have to work. And yes, they get overtime for it because we're not volunteers, however, they'd rather be at home with their families and children.”

Hazelton says overtime shifts are becoming the norm, with shifts ranging from 14 to 16 hours, up to 20 and even 24 hours.

“At 20 hours, you can't possibly be on your toes and ready to go,” Hazelton said.

Hazelton noted health care workers have experienced increasing levels of burnout, fatigue, and even violence in the workplace.

Michelle Thompson, Minister of Health and Wellness; Barbara Adams, Minister of Seniors and Long-term Care; and Brian Comer, Minister of the Office of Mental Health and Addictions issued a joint statement Friday reacting to the rally, saying they're prepared to listen to what nurses have to say.

“We want to make clear how much we value nurses and the immeasurable contribution they make to our communities, our health-care system and our province. As health-care professionals ourselves, we respect the work that nurses do every day, in all of their various roles in the health system,” the statement said.

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