Catherine Little has been a registered nurse at the Saint John Regional Hospital for 21 years.
None of her time on the job, she says, has been quite like the past 14 months amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’ve stepped up to look after New Brunswickers, we went to work when others got to stay home,” says Little.
“We’ve been getting used to a different type of work,” she says.
That includes increased protective gear (PPE) and pandemic protocols, and patients not being able to have loved ones by their sides due to visitor restrictions.
“When you’re looking after people and we’re their only support person, we don’t always have the time to spend the amount of time we want to with them,” Little says, adding that alone can leave a nurse carrying a heavy emotional weight when they walk out the door at the end of their shift.
“It’s a struggle going home every day when we feel we didn’t do a good job.”
Little says she and her coworkers are feeling burnt-out.
Not just by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, but by staffing shortages and working conditions in the province.
“It does take a big toll because the resources aren’t there to have time off that we desperately need,” says Little.
“Our mental health is suffering because of it.”
She says nurses in the province go home from their 12, 16 or even 24-hour-long shifts, just to be called back in for overtime – which she says is at an all-time high.
New Brunswick’s Nurses Union says the province is about 700 nurses short – with RNs like Little stepping up to fill shift gaps when possible.
However, a notice sent out by Horizon Health this past weekend as the Saint John Regional’s ER went short-staffed depicts gaps still left.
Recruitment and retention, among the issues the union says need to be addressed – as they continue their push for a collective agreement with the Province. Registered nurses have been without one since December 2018.
Little says, unless working conditions are to improve, she can’t see those vacancies being easily filled.