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Nurses rally in Nova Scotia to demand government fix the broken health-care system

Nurses in Nova Scotia rally to call attention to the nursing shortage. Jesse Thomas / Global News

The nursing shortage isn’t a new issue for Nova Scotia Nurses’ Union president Janet Hazelton but in her 20 years as leader of the organization she says never seen the staffing situation so bad.

More than 50 nurses and union members gathered Friday morning outside the Nova Scotia Nurses’ Union headquarters in Dartmouth to join a national day of action highlighting the nursing crisis across Canada.

Read more: ‘We’ve had enough’: Nurses’ union says N.S. hospitals reaching critical point

“We as nurses owe it to our patients and residents and families, we owe it to them to continue our fight to say when we are healthy, when we are well-staffed and when we are safe, that means you, the residents, families and clients, you are safe and you are getting the good care which you deserve,” said Hazelton.

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The nurses are “done asking,” said Hazleton. That’s the rallying cry for the nurses and other front-line health-care workers who are demanding urgent action from the government to fix the broken health-care system.

With voters casting their ballots in the federal election Monday, the nurses said they are frustrated with the status quo and demand action and investment to fix the staffing problem.

“We are here, our voice is loud and we do expect you (the government) to follow through,” said intensive care nurse Kerri Webster-McIsaac. “We want better for our constituents in Nova Scotia.”

As the pandemic drags on, the past 18 months have been hard on health-care workers, said Jen Thiel, an emergency room nurse.

More and more nurses are leaving their jobs, says the union.

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There are nearly 1,500 nursing vacancies in Nova Scotia currently, leading to longer wait times at hospitals across the province and forcing Nova Scotia Health to postpone more than 150 non-urgent surgeries in the Central and Northern health regions.

Read more: More than 2,100 surgeries suspended in Nova Scotia amid COVID-19 pandemic

For front-line health care workers, the ongoing staffing shortage means more pressure on them to work longer hours and it’s leading to burnout, said Thiele.

“We’ve been short of nurses long before the pandemic and the pandemic has made it ten-fold worse because we have lost a lot of retired nurses and people who planned on staying in the profession have left and that’s putting the extra strain on us,” she said.

Insufficient staffing is also a strain on nurses working in the long-term care sector which was hit hard by the pandemic, as the virus claimed the lives of thousands of elderly Canadians.

Reports show the government and the long-term care sector were ill-prepared for the pandemic and it requires significant investments and reforms to improve the quality of care to protect residents and those who work in the facilities.

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“We are so understaffed in long-term care, we need more of all of us to do the job and to better provide safe and adequate care to our patients,” said long-term care nurse Glenda Sabine.

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The new Progressive Conservative government and Premier Tim Houston have made fixing the health-care problem in Nova Scotia its top priority and campaigned on the promise to invest a record amount of taxpayer dollars to do it.

Houston and the health and wellness minister Michelle Thompson will meet with front-line health workers directly starting Monday and tour the province to speak with those working in health care to seek their solutions.

Read more: Nurses’ union in N.S. condemns ‘anti-science’ protest planned at Halifax hospital

The government says it also wants to hear from professional associations, unions and regulatory colleges outside of the health-care tour.

Recruitment and education are key to addressing the staffing shortage said Webster-McIsaac.

“I have heard that since the pandemic, that applications are up, however, the seats aren’t there, there’s not enough of them,” said Webster-McIsaac. “The government hasn’t sponsored enough seats to bring in enough nurses to be trained.”

The Nova Scotia Nurses’ Union represents nearly 8,000 nurses working in hospitals, long-term care homes, and in community and primary care settings.

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