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Outbreak shows second wave of COVID-19 ‘upon us’: New Brunswick public health

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WATCH: Front-line health workers in New Brunswick are voicing concerns about the second wave of COVID-19 and how prepared the health-care system is – Oct 8, 2020

The president of the New Brunswick Nurses Union says she has “grave concern” about the outbreak of COVID-19 at Manoir Notre-Dame, a special care home in Moncton.

Part of that concern stems from staffing levels in the city. Less than a month ago, the Vitalité Health Network asked people to avoid going to the ER at the Dr. Georges-L.-Dumont University Hospital Centre in Moncton, if possible, due in part to staffing shortages.

Paula Doucet, the union’s president, says with low COVID-19 numbers, “people have become more relaxed.”

“We’ve been dealing with severe shortages of registered nurses at both the Georges Dumont hospital and the Moncton city hospital,” she says.

Doucet says she’s concerned about her members who are employed at both those facilities — and how they’ll provide “safe and effective care.”

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“We were all holding our breath waiting for the second wave to hit,” Doucet says. “We managed to get through the first wave relatively OK, however, the stress level and anxiety around the availability and accessibility of proper PPE (personal protective equipment) always raises concerns.”

Read more: N.B. to make masks mandatory in indoor public places, 3 new COVID-19 cases reported

As of Thursday, three COVID-19 patients are in hospital.

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Gilles Lanteigne, Vitalité’s president and CEO, confirms multiple patients are at the Georges Dumont hospital.

He says the health authority tried to make up for lost time and restart elective surgeries and other procedures when the province loosened public health restrictions over the summer.

“We ideally had wanted to be at a level of about 85 to 90 per cent of activities in our hospitals,” he says via a Zoom interview. “Some of our hospitals were over 100 per cent, so it’s a very fragile situation.”

Both health authorities have been asked to deploy additional staff to the Manoir Notre-Dame as they try to control the outbreak.

Asked how staffing challenges would be addressed if case numbers increase, Lanteigne admits “the concern related to the HR crisis is very real, very present in all our areas of our province.”

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He says  Vitalité is actively recruiting, but resources are limited in a nationwide competition for health-care workers.

Still, he says they’re confident they’re ready for this second wave.

Read more: New Brunswick encouraging residents to get flu shots, ease strain on health-care system

That’s a sentiment shared by the CEO of the Horizon Health Network.

“I do believe that all our zonal hospitals are ready,” Karen McGrath said Thursday when asked by Global News about the capacity to handle a second wave. “We have the ability to have dedicated units in all those hospitals.”

But the New Brunswick Medical Society says while hospital visits decreased in the spring, they ramped up again over the summer — and that we need to be cautious to not overload the system.

“We are facing many crises in many fronts with respect to our ability to plan for health human resource needs today and in the future,” says Anthony Knight, the CEO of the group representing doctors in the province.