Janet Hazelton

On March 19, NSNU president Janet Hazelton appeared as a witness before the Standing Committee on Health to discuss the impacts of the labour shortage on the healthcare system.

President Hazelton spoke to the ongoing shortage of nurses across sectors in this province, including close to 1000 vacancies in Nova Scotia Health alone, urging government to be less reliant on private agency nursing instead investing in professionals currently in the system and future generations of nurses. 
Please see NSNU’s report to the Committee below:

Standing Committee on Health March 2024

Good morning,

Thank you to the members of the Standing Committee on Health for the invitation to appear before you today and discuss how the current labour shortage in Nova Scotia is impacting the health care system and the work lives of nurses. My name is Janet Hazelton, and I am privileged to attend as the President of the Nova Scotia Nurses' Union, representing a dedicated community of more than 8,000 nurses who work in all healthcare settings and areas of the province. Nurses are the largest occupation within our healthcare system and are ultimately the glue that holds our system together.

Our healthcare system is currently grappling with over 1000 vacant nurse positions within Nova Scotia Health alone, reflecting a vacancy rate of 16.5%. This situation is exacerbated by a population growth rate that is outpacing the growth of our direct care RNs. Though the growth in the number of LPNs and NPs employed in direct care may be higher than RNs, it is not enough to meet the surging demand for healthcare services. The proportion of direct care nurses working in hospital-based and LTC-based care is also decreasing, a troubling sign of the working conditions these groups face.

Despite Nova Scotia having higher per capita numbers of registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, and nurse practitioners than the Canadian average, our system clocked approximately 496,000 hours of overtime in nursing inpatient services during 2021-2022. This overtime is a testament to the dedication of our nurses but also highlights the unsustainable pressure on our workforce.

Significantly, one in five new nurses in 2022 were internationally educated. Yet, the inflow of nurses from all sources is not keeping pace with demand, as evidenced by the alarming 75% growth in vacancies for registered nurses and 62% for licensed practical nurses from 2021 to 2022.

The gap between nursing supply and the nursing workforce—for RNs at 6% and LPNs at 5%—signals the potential for bringing nurses back into the system, provided we offer compelling reasons for their return. Further, we need to ensure that the next generation of the workforce see nursing as a viable career. We risk further erosion of enrolment numbers if we do not improve working conditions.

Beyond the professional toll that the nursing shortage is exacting, the financial implications are stark. The province has expended a staggering amount (at least $126 million) on private agencies for temporary nurses in acute and long-term care from 2023 to 2024. Compare this to the $294 million cost of the new collective agreements for all nurses in Nova Scotia. The disparity underscores a fundamental misallocation of resources that should instead be directed towards improving working conditions and benefits for our nurses, rather than enriching private entities.

We must re-evaluate our reliance on private agencies. As discussed at previous Health Committee meetings, and included in our newly negotiated collective agreement, the province needs to explore a publicly employed pool of nurses that would operate much the same as agency nurses, with nurses benefitting from the flexibility that the role affords, rather than corporations benefitting financially from the physical and emotional labour of nurses.

Another recently negotiated initiative that we hope will improve retention and recruitment of nurses is the guaranteed minimum number of nurses, a flexible and nurse-informed version of nurse patient ratios. We hope that work towards formalizing the guaranteed minimum will be underway soon. To ensure the efficacy of our nursing workforce, it is crucial to place nurses in settings that maximize their skills and expertise and ensure they are properly resourced. Additionally, focusing on areas of growth such as Nurse Practitioners can significantly address gaps in primary care coverage.

In conclusion, if we are willing to spend millions on nursing care, these funds should be invested in improving the working conditions of our nurses and, by extension, the healthcare services provided to Nova Scotians. This is not merely a financial issue but a moral imperative to ensure the sustainability and resilience of our healthcare system. We need to ensure that we maximize every dollar spent on the system and invest in the people that keep it functional.

Thank you for your attention, and I look forward to our productive exchange.

Watch the full session on Youtube

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