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Nearly 600 N.B. health-care workers off job due to COVID-19 as restrictions set to lift

Click to play video: 'New Brunswick unions warning lifting of COVID-19 restrictions could strain health care' New Brunswick unions warning lifting of COVID-19 restrictions could strain health care
WATCH: The number of health-care workers in New Brunswick who are off the job due to COVID-19 continues to rise. Nearly 600 employees are currently off, adding pressure to an already strained system. Some unions are warning next week’s lifting of restrictions could worsen the situation. Nathalie Sturgeon reports – Mar 10, 2022

As New Brunswick moves to leave behind COVID-19 restrictions and mandates, the number of health-care workers in the province isolated or off work due to COVID-19 is rising.

It’s something that is concerning to New Brunswick Nurses Union president Paula Doucet.

“Our health-care system is very fragile and taking more health-care workers out of the system again is really playing havoc with our health-care system for those that need it,” she said in an interview on Thursday.

She said nurses, in particular, are already tired and overworked, only adding to the strain the health-care system is facing.

Nearly 600 health-care workers are out due to COVID-19 and Doucet said she hopes that people realize that just because the mandates are ending doesn’t mean the COVID-19 pandemic is over.

Of the nearly 600 health-care workers, 352 are with Horizon, 176 are with Vitalite and 68 are with extramural services.

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“The emergency order is being lifted, mandates are being pushed to the wayside — I hope that New Brunswickers will heed the warnings of the health-care workers,” she said.

That sentiment is shared by Dr. Mark MacMillan with the New Brunswick Medical Society. He described the numbers as concerning.

“The hospital is still in the red phase. We are still struggling. We are keeping up but we are having challenges. With that many people off work it is hard to keep things moving smoothly,” he said in an interview on Thursday.

MacMillan said while some services are restored, it remains difficult to resume others and get people into surgery. He feels confident, though, the government would act if things got worse.

“There is definitely some concern and we’ll watch those numbers closely,” he said. “The government has been responsive in the past if hit with a crisis situation in the hospital, they’ve changed the mandates before, they’ve put restrictions back in place. If we get to that point, we’ll ask for it.”

On Thursday, Public Health said the staff at both regional health authorities are fully vaccinated, meaning it can continue without major service disruptions.

“While the importance of health care workers cannot be underestimated, several factors went into the decision to move to Levels 2 and 3, including COVID-19 hospitalizations, ICU admissions and the trajectory of the omicron wave which was moving through the province at that time,” said Bruce Macfarlane, a spokesperson for the department.

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Horizon Health Network did provide an update on its latest status report.

It said, alongside Vitalite Health Network, that it will remain at the red level even after the mandates lift on March 14.

According to the status report, though, several hospitals under the health authority are at or near capacity, with the lowest sitting 90 per cent.

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