It might be National Nursing Week, but staffing shortages, excessive overtime and widespread burnout are leaving nurses with little to celebrate.
For Janet Hazelton, who has served as president of the Nova Scotia Nurses’ Union for 20 years, it’s a time of reflection and gratitude for the hard work of nurses and to acknowledge what they do for patients while contributing significantly to provincial health care.
In an interview with CityNews Halifax, Hazelton talked about the changes impacting the nursing sector over the past two decades, as life expectancy rates continued to rise thanks to advancements in medicine.
Because people are living longer, Hazelton explained, a lot of their work has gone into keeping people at home as long as possible.
While the nursing sector continues to face widespread staffing shortages, Hazelton is hopeful that the Houston government will follow through on their commitment to hire every new nursing graduate for a permanent position, in an effort to recruit and retain nurses in Nova Scotia.
“There's a lot of pressure on our system now, and when there's pressure on our system, there's pressure on the people that work within it,” Hazelton explained, noting nurses are working considerable lengths of time without any respite.
The shortages and overtime aren’t just causing burnout, Hazelton says, they’re also resulting in more injuries, dissatisfaction, and stress-induced health ailments.
“We have to figure out a way to make sure that nurses in the system have a better work-life balance,” she said.
While the average age of a nurse in Nova Scotia remains in the mid-to-late 40s, Hazelton says the average is coming down because of the increase in new nursing graduates. She explained that a younger roster comes with different sets of challenges, like higher rates of maternity leave.
“What we should be doing is looking at our senior nurses and seeing if there's a way we can encourage them to stay in the system a little longer,” Hazelton said, suggesting more collaboration between senior nurses and new grads.
“It is a good system [and] people do get care when they need it, but we just need to put a little more into it, to make sure that we get what we need out of it,” she added, referring to cooperation between unions and the provincial government.
Last fall, Hazelton noted there were “23 nurse practitioner vacancies, 231 unfilled LPN positions, and a shortage of around 1,100 nurses.” As a result, Hazelton said that 60 per cent of Canadian nurses were looking to leave the profession altogether.
She also noted at the time that overtime is “becoming the norm,” noting nurses are being expected to work shifts “ranging from 14 to 16 hours, up to 20 and even 24 hours.”
The province’s latest COVID-19 weekly report noted 253 health staff are off work due to contracting the virus or being in close contact with someone who has tested positive. A month ago, that number was more than double.