COVID-19 Monitoring and Information
May 18, 2021
A Joint Message from Nova Scotia Healthcare Unions
Dear Union Member,
The 24,000 health care members represented by our four unions have worked hard to protect Nova Scotians these past 17 months. Regardless of where you work or what you do in the acute care system – whether you are working in the labs, public health, or critical care and COVID units in your duties as administrative professionals, health care, nursing or support services, ensuring the safe operations of our hospitals – you have earned the sincere admiration and appreciation of Nova Scotians.
As unions, it is our job to ensure you are kept as safe as possible while you do this difficult work. All the unions representing you have had ongoing communications almost every day with provincial government representatives and with your employers. As COVID variants continue to challenge our health care system, we are learning each day about the new challenges you face.
The unions have informed the Nova Scotia Health Authority (NSHA) that we understand the priority right now is to ensure adequate staffing for the COVID units as they deal with the growing number of COVID patients requiring hospitalization and care. At the same time, everything must be done to keep workers as safe as possible. To that end, the unions want to inform our members of the following:
- If you are assigned to a COVID unit and believe you require an N95 mask, but have not been provided one, you should approach your manager to ask for one;
- It is the position of the unions that staff who are immunocompromised or who are pregnant should not be forced to be re-assigned to a COVID unit;
- It is the position of the unions that people without any vaccinations who do not wish to be re-assigned to a COVID unit should only be re-assigned as a last resort;
- It is the position of the unions that health care workers who do not have a second vaccination and who work with COVID patients should be provided the second vaccination immediately.
The unions continue to work with the government and your employer on these and other issues.
If you have reasonable grounds and are asked to work in an unsafe environment, you have the right to refuse that work under the Occupational Health and Safety Act. If you do choose to refuse, your employer is obligated to investigate your concerns and provide you with a remedy or advise you if they believe your refusal does not have merit. Either way, if you are not satisfied with the outcome of this reporting step, your refusal will stay active. The next step is to contact your Joint Occupational Health & Safety Committee, who will then investigate your refusal and provide the outcome of the committee’s decision. If you are not satisfied with that outcome, you then have the option to escalate your refusal to the Department of Labour & Advanced Education, who will conduct their own investigation and issue a ruling. They can be reached at (902) 424-5400.
If you have any questions about your right to refuse unsafe work or about anything you are being asked to do, please contact your Occupational Health and Safety union representative at the contact information provided below:
Justin Hiltz, justin.hiltz [at] nsnu.ca.
May 3, 2021
Dear NSNU Member,
As the province collectively holds it breath each time the daily COVID-19 case numbers are revealed and hospitalizations continue to rise, I want to extend words of encouragement and support to our members who are on the frontlines of care, and those who are providing other essential services as we deal with this current outbreak.
We now find ourselves in unfamiliar territory. Last year, we experienced an unspeakable tragedy as the virus took hold of Northwood Halifax Campus. The high rate of infection at that facility resulted in over 50 deaths and was heartbreaking on every level. Since that difficult time, Nova Scotia’s public health measures and good compliance were an example of how to combat the disease and keep infection rates relatively low.
However, we are now witnessing what the new variants and a lack of compliance are capable of. We’re in lockdown, again, with wide community spread in the Halifax region and our numbers have never been this high. Keep in mind that these numbers are a reflection of record-high testing and, if we continue to limit gatherings and follow guidelines and safety protocols, we can turn this around.
Unlike last spring, we have ample personal protective equipment and vaccines at our disposal. We understand how to treat patients who are exposed and those who become ill. There are teams of health care professionals equally committed to assist each other when times are tough, and your Union is here for you.
We cannot normalize what we are experiencing because we have the right to feel the weight of this pandemic, both on the job and at home. The burden placed on all healthcare workers has been immense and unsustainable. The NSNU encourages you to speak up when you need assistance and even when you don’t. It’s important that you express your emotions and embrace what brings you comfort.
As nurses, we are consummate professionals – we rally together when the going gets tough, we prop others up when they are down, and we use our skill, knowledge, compassion and confidence to overcome challenging situations.
I have no doubt that our nursing workforce is prepared for the times we now face, though I implore you to be protective of one another and contact the Nurses’ Union if you have questions or concerns.
Your labour relations representatives are available to respond to your needs, and I am only an email or phone call away. I continue to take up your cause at every level of government and with your employers, so that you are safe in your practice.
Sincerely and in solidarity,
March 11, 2021
A Year into the Pandemic, Nurses Exhausted and Concerned
As the March 11th anniversary of the World Health Organization’s declaration of the COVID-19 global pandemic approached, nurses across Canada remain on high alert. Many are exhausted, burned out – and deeply concerned.
Nurses are on the frontlines of the pandemic and our health care system every day. We see its problems in brutal detail, and we have the experience to confront it. We have repeatedly called on decision makers to address critical staffing shortages and provide basic protections to keep workers safe.
When nurses and other healthcare workers are disregarded, the results can be devastating.
As of January 15, 65,920 health workers had been infected with the COVID-19 virus, representing 9.5 percent of all infections in Canada. More than 40 health workers are known to have died from the illness.
In our troubled long-term care system, insufficient staffing and safety protocols have contributed to a national tragedy. About 25,000 health care worker infections are in long-term care. More than 14,000 vulnerable residents have died from COVID-19, representing about 70 percent of all deaths in Canada.
It didn’t have to be this way.
As early as January of last year, the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions began urging governments across Canada to heed the lessons of SARS and adopt a precautionary approach. This meant assuming the virus was airborne and protecting health workers – potential vectors of transmission – accordingly.
In Nova Scotia, healthcare unions, including the Nova Scotia Nurses’ Union launched a campaign the first week in March 2020 titled Protect NS Frontline, a joint effort emphasizing the importance of listening to the expertise of more than 40,000 health care workers in our province.
The campaign advocated for better access to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for all frontline healthcare workers, urging government to trust the clinical judgement of healthcare professionals allowing them to determine what PPE is required to do their job safely.
Despite our best efforts, healthcare workers in many provinces have been put at unacceptable risk, with implications for their families, patients and communities.
Initially, N95 respirators were often locked away due to supply and procurement concerns, and as the debate over viral transmission evolved. With an ever-increasing number of studies showing airborne transmission, the science now supports our view that airborne transmission is a significant contributing factor in the spread of the disease, and it is essential to adhere to the precautionary principle in the fight against COVID-19.
It took the Public Health Agency of Canada until January 2021 to acknowledge that healthcare workers are at risk of airborne transmission when in close proximity to an infected person. Yet even given this admission, PHAC still does not require healthcare workers in COVID-19 units and ‘hot zones’ to wear protection from airborne transmission, such as N95 respirators.
Similarly, provinces across Canada have failed to update their guidance to adequately reflect what we now know about the virus and how its spreads.
Only Quebec has followed the scientific evidence to its natural conclusion: As of February 11, 2021, Quebec requires health care workers in COVID-19 hot zones to wear an N95 respirator or superior level of protection.
As new variants circulate in Canada, dramatically increasing the rate of transmission, healthcare workers are under even more pressure. Without action, health staffing, which is already in short supply, could become further depleted.
We must not let this happen. There is a desperate need for more staff, not less. Budgets cuts, fiscal restraints, short staffing, and higher workloads cannot be allowed to erode the healthcare workforce and quality of patient care. Investment in the retention and recruitment of nurses must be ongoing and meaningful to avoid an exodus from the profession as burnout takes its toll.
Governments across Canada must act now and show their respect and appreciation for healthcare workers by improving and enhancing job safety and safe staffing.
Acting on the recommendations of nurses and other frontline workers can lead to better outcomes for patients and workers alike where safety is paramount, and care is not compromised.
Linda Silas is a nurse and president of the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions.
Janet Hazleton is a registered nurse and president of the Nova Scotia Nurses’ Union.
February 11, 2021
Ontario Nurses’ Association Calls for the Province to Adopt the Precautionary Principle as Quebec Takes Action
Since the pandemic began, the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions and all provincial nurse unions, including the NSNU, have been calling on governments to adopt the Precautionary Principle, which would require healthcare employers to provide access to necessary PPE to protect workers from airborne transmission of the virus. The Principle is simple: to err on the side of caution.
Beginning on February 11, 2021, Quebec mandated healthcare workers wear N95 masks when in proximity of confirmed or possible COVID-19-infected patients – the Precautionary Principle in action. The Ontario Nurses Association is calling on their provincial government to do the same.
December 10, 2020
A Perfect Storm: COVID-19 & Canada’s health care workforce crisis
The Prime Minister and premiers convened a first ministers meeting on December 10. The CFNU has called on Canada’s first ministers to address the inadequate health care staffing and unacceptable working conditions facing nurses across Canada. The brief below was sent directly to premiers.
Nurses are appealing to the Prime Minister and premiers to tackle a health workforce crisis that is only growing with rising COVID-19 case numbers.
December 7, 2020
New CFNU Study - Outlook on Nursing: A snapshot from Canadian nurses on work environments pre-COVID-19
It’s never been more important to support our nursing workforce, and today, we are releasing a pan-Canadian study by Dr. Linda McGillis Hall that outlines how to do just that. Learn more: https://nursesunions.ca/research/outlook-on-nursing/
November 30, 2020
The following list of Frequently Asked Questions has been compiled and updated by Nova Scotia Health (NSH) for their employees.
October 28, 2020
Leading national and international experts call on Canada to protect health workers from COVID-19
In the midst of a second wave of COVID-19 sweeping across the country, a growing number of Canadian and international experts – recognized as leading occupational health and safety experts, aerosol scientists, virologists, chemists, professors and medical doctors – are calling on the federal government to adopt the precautionary principle in its approach to protecting health care workers.
As signatories to a consensus statement, prominent global experts, including Dr. Raymond Tellier (Canada), Dr. Julian Tang (United Kingdom), Dr. Lisa Brosseau (United States), Dr. Yuguo Li (Hong Kong), Dr. Lidia Morawska (Australia) and Dr. Donald Milton (United States), are backing the key recommendations from Mario Possamai’s recent report, A Time of Fear: How Canada failed our health care workers and mismanaged COVID-19.
Dr. Lidia Morawska and Dr. Donald Milton previously co-authored the commentary published in July 2020, to which 237 other scientists signed on, urging the WHO to recognize the potential for airborne transmission of COVID-19 and adopt “preventive measures to mitigate” it.
“Global experts are deeply concerned by the infection rate of Canadian health care workers, which is two times higher than the global average. Experts are rallying behind Mr. Possamai’s recommendations because they know that this is a matter of life and death for frontline health workers,” said Linda Silas, president of the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions, which commissioned Possamai’s independent report.
A Time of Fear recommends that governments and public health agencies adopt the precautionary principle in infection control guidance, ensure sufficient supplies of PPE be accessible to all health workers who require them, establish a federal worker safety agency, increase transparency regarding PPE stockpiles and health worker infection numbers, and enhance Canada’s pandemic containment measures.
“Our political leaders have been quick to thank health care workers for their service but have failed to guarantee the minimum protections they need to stay safe at work. With no end to the pandemic in sight, we must listen to experts by acting urgently to guarantee the safety of frontline health workers and their patients,” concluded Silas.
The consensus statement is receiving expert signatories on an ongoing basis and is available here
October 5, 2020
CFNU Releases Pandemic Investigation Report
The CFNU has released an independent pandemic investigation by Mario Possamai, titled, A Time of Fear: How Canada failed our health care workers and mismanaged COVID-19.
The report is available on CFNU’s website and at www.atimeoffear.ca. A Facebook Live event will happen at noon on October 5, 2020 at this link, and will remain available on the CFNU Facebook page after it has concluded.
September 21, 2020
In response to two reviews of outbreaks in long-term care facilities, the Nova Scotia Nurses’ Union is calling the recommendations in the review meaningful and impactful if implemented in a timely manner.
Read the full NSNU response:
September 21, 2020
September 14, 2020
Watch Linda Silas and leaders from Canada's nurses' unions as they delve into how we can build a healthy recovery for all.