Nursing shortage in Nova Scotia has only worsened since the pandemic

Click to play video: 'Shortage of nurses in N.S. getting worse'
Shortage of nurses in N.S. getting worse
WATCH: Nursing shortage in Nova Scotia has only worsened since the pandemic – Jul 16, 2021

An advisory was issued on Friday to alert Nova Scotians to expect increased wait times at emergency departments across the province this summer.

A nursing shortage is playing a big part in the problem but so is the COVID-19 pandemic says Nova Scotia Nurses’ Union president Janet Hazelton.

Read more: Nova Scotia to add beds and upgrade long-term care homes in wake of COVID-19 deaths

“A lot of our nurses have taken temporary assignments to work on COVID-19, so therefore we have fewer nurses than we normally have to staff for the summer,” said Hazelton.

Approximately 800 nurses have transitioned to new roles amid the COVID-19 pandemic, with 200 of those employees working with Nova Scotia Health to support COVID-19 testing and immunization at clinics across the provinces, while also taking on roles with public health and assisting with investigations and contact tracing.

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That work is expected to continue into the fall says Nova Scotia Health spokesperson Carla Adams.

“Nova Scotia Health acknowledges that our nurses have been instrumental in seeing our way through the COVID-19 pandemic over the last 16 months,” said Adams in a statement to Global News. “We owe nurses and many other health-care workers a huge debt of gratitude for their tireless work.”

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A nursing shortage is leading to a “crisis in emergency departments” says the president of Nova Scotia’s General Employees’ Union president Jason MacLean and the pandemic has only exacerbated the nursing shortage.

MacLean is calling on the government and Nova Scotia Health to do more to attract new nurses.

“Nova Scotia’s nurses were stretched thin before the pandemic. Now, they’re starting to break,” said MacLean.

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Read more: ‘You just felt chronically tired’: COVID-19 pandemic burning out Canadian nurses

Burnout is a real concern says MacLean with some nurses opting to leave the job or retire early.

“We’ve had 34 people leave the Halifax Infirmary emergency department in the past two and a half to three months,” said MacLean. “Six of them didn’t even have other jobs.  So what we need to do is find out why they are leaving which I believe we are getting to, but also people need to be incentivized to stay there.”

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Nova Scotia health was dealing with a seven per cent nursing vacancy rate before the pandemic hit and that number has since climbed to 20 per cent.

Adams said there are 19 vacancy’s at the emergency department at the QE II Health Centre and that Nova Scotia Health has filled 14 positions with most staff expected to start in September.

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The unions say more needs to be done to address the understaffing issue, and more work is needed on recruitment initiatives to attract new nurses.

Read more: Nova Scotia part of national study on how COVID-19 restrictions impact kids in hospitals

“We can’t have 100 or more nurses working in public health that aren’t normally there and expect that our acute care and long-term care sectors aren’t going to suffer because of that,” said Hazelton. “Staffing issues have always been an issue in the summer but to be honest this summer will be our most challenging.”

Nova Scotia Health assures people that if an emergency department is open it is staffed appropriately.

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