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NB Nurses Union president says system is ‘crumbling’ amid nursing staff shortages

Click to play video: 'NB Nurses Union president says system is ‘crumbling’ amid nursing staff shortages' NB Nurses Union president says system is ‘crumbling’ amid nursing staff shortages
WATCH: The head of the New Brunswick nurses union says morale is low and many nurses are on the verge of burnout due to staffing shortages being exacerbated by the pandemic. Global’s Shelley Steeves reports. – Apr 30, 2021

The head of the New Brunswick Nurses Union says morale is low and many nurses are on the verge of burnout due to staffing shortages being exacerbated by the pandemic.

“It is only going to take one major outbreak, one major accident and it is crumbling down around us,” said union president Paula Doucet.

Doucet is calling on the government to at least consider cutting back on non-essential health services as a means of managing the ongoing nursing staffing shortages.

Doucet says nurses are being forced to work up to 36-hour shifts with no backup staff to replace them and the pandemic is only making matters worse.

Read more: Staff at Sackville nursing home will be among the first in N.B. to get the COVID-19 vaccine

“We are human beings and we cannot continue at the pace that is expected of us right now,” she said.

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She said the province should consider cancelling elective services and surgeries in the short term.

“We may need to look at providing emergency services only. Right now it is business as usual,” said Doucet.

Doucet also said the province could also consider combining some services being offered by the Horizon Health Network and the Vitalite Health Network, at least in the short term until pandemic pressures are lessened.

Read more: ‘I couldn’t take it anymore’ — Why some medical staff are calling it quits amid COVID-19

“That is something that needs to be discussed with RHAs (regional health authorities), government and other stakeholders,” she said, “because we are in extremely dire straits now,” said Doucet.

The head of the New Brunswick Medical Society says cutting back some non-essential services will alleviate some staffing pressures.

“You have to look at the system and say is there anything that we do right now that perhaps we don’t need to do and it is hard to pick because every area seems to be important,” said Dr. Jeff Steeves.

Steeves says he has had to cancel surgeries due to the nursing shortage for years but said the pandemic is creating even more staffing pressures.

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“When people have been exposed and have to isolate that adds insult to injury,” said Steeves.

According to a statement released on Friday by the president and CEO of the Vitalité Health Network, the staff shortage, especially in nursing, remains extremely concerning.

“We are implementing temporary measures to ensure the continuity of care to patients,” said Dr. France Desrosiers. “The anticipated arrival of a number of new registered nurses in July should provide some respite, but until then, we have to count on the cooperation of all stakeholders to get through these difficult times.”

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But Doucet says recruitment is not happening fast enough in an overloaded system.

In a statement, the Department of Health’s director of communications acknowledged concern over nursing shortages and said the province may consider cancelling elective surgeries if necessary.

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“In relation to elective surgeries, cancellations have occurred in the past due to low staffing numbers and may occur again depending on the same situation moving forward,” Bruce Macfarlane said. “Our commitment remains with the health and safety of citizens of NB, and we will never pre-emptively cancel surgeries unless absolutely necessary.

“We have taken important steps in addressing this issue and we are making progress. While this significant issue cannot be fixed overnight, we remain committed to this task and to exhausting all options to improve healthcare in New Brunswick.”

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