Nova Scotia Nurses’ Union Voices Concern for Nurses and Patients

In late March the Nova Scotia Nurses’ Union called attention to escalating concerns voiced by nurses across the province pertaining to nursing shortages, vacation denials, overtime, unfilled job vacancies and other impediments to providing quality care and acceptable work environments.

Nurses represented by the NSNU working in 38 hospitals across Nova Scotia are particularly concerned about the higher-than-normal overcrowding of emergency departments and shortages in other critical care units, especially in rural areas. The system is currently under great pressure making it more difficult to retain nurses and allow those who remain to practice in safe work environments.

On top of that, blanket vacation denials have had a demoralizing effect on overworked staff who, like other Nova Scotians, deserve to know when and if they will receive vacation time they’ve earned and are entitled to.

“Contrary to recent comments in the media, nurses are telling us that there is a shortage and we agree with that assessment,” says Janet Hazelton, president of the NSNU. “Based on the occurrence of 24-hour shifts, travel nurses, nurses working short, and closures, we respectfully disagree with those who claim this isn’t an issue – we either have a nursing shortage or staff are not being utilized properly.”

The Department of Health and Wellness does not support the shortage theory. On paper, the numbers are in line with staffing standards. However, reports from nurses, both anecdotal and documented, put that evidence into question. The Department also promises to hire every new grad this spring – too late, says the NSNU, for staff who are presently struggling to cope.

“If nurses we represent in thirty-eight hospitals say the matter is critical, we believe them. We have been gathering our own data, all the while telling the Health Authority that the situation is serious.  Seventy-seven per cent of our emergency department nurses say they are not optimistic about the state of EDs in Nova Scotia,” says Hazelton.

Hazelton says that Nova Scotia is unlike other provinces in the country because we have the highest levels of chronic disease and the oldest population. Meeting the health needs of Nova Scotians likely requires higher than standard staffing levels in order to address these issues, especially during the cold and flu, and slip and fall season.

She also says that hiring all new grads each year is not enough as it takes time to orientate them. In the meantime, we have an immediate need for more nurses in some geographical areas, and critical care units like emergency departments. More must be done to recruit permanent fulltime nurses instead of relying on a temporary workforce (travel nurses) which is not a steady resource.

CFNU Canadian Labour Congress