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COVID-19: N.S. health workers ‘overwhelmed’ as hospitals reach capacity, staff off sick

Click to play video: 'Epidemiologists continue to warn about COVID-19 as restrictions lifted' Epidemiologists continue to warn about COVID-19 as restrictions lifted
Last month we saw provinces across the country remove all COVID-19 restrictions, but cases are still going up and epidemiologists warn the virus is still serious. At the same time Nova Scotia removed COVID-19 restrictions, it also saw the deadliest month yet due to the virus. Alicia Draus has the details – Apr 4, 2022

Hospitalizations and COVID-19 cases in Nova Scotia are once again rising, and so is the pressure on hospital workers in the province.

Though provincial officials are encouraging Nova Scotians to “get back out there,” Nova Scotia Health (NSH) says it is facing “significant challenges.”

As of Thursday morning, the total bed occupancy in hospitals across the province was 97.7 per cent. For intensive care, occupancy was at 85 per cent.

For acute care, which includes medical and surgical care, bed occupancy is at 102 per cent.

On Monday, NSH began limiting surgeries at the QEII Health Sciences Centre in Halifax to day surgery procedures, time-sensitive cancer, and non-cancer same-day-surgeries. The agency said in an email it was a “difficult decision” to make.

“This is incredibly challenging for our patients, staff and physicians but was a necessary step to ensure sufficient inpatient bed capacity,” the email statement read.

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Read more: From ‘stay the blazes home’ to ‘get back out there’: How COVID-19 messaging is shifting in N.S.

Not only are hospitals full, but they can also find themselves understaffed.

Nova Scotia Nurses Union president Janet Hazelton says “there’s more people off sick than ever before” among staff in the acute care system.

According to data from Nova Scotia Health, there are currently 638 employees off work due a COVID-19 diagnosis, awaiting results of a COVID-19 test, or were exposed to a positive household member.

“When you take that number of people out of the system, it’s very difficult to run,” said Hazelton.

Nurses were hoping that the worst of COVID-19 in their workplace had passed, but according to Hazelton, they’re now being denied summer vacation.

“Many, many, many of our nurses are being told that there’s no staff available to replace them, so their vacation, in essence, is being denied,” she said.

After two difficult years, this came as a disappointment, Hazelton said.

“If they get one or two days, that’s all they’ll get this summer,” Hazelton added.

Nova Scotia Nurses’ Union president Janet Hazelton says nurses are being stretched thin.
Nova Scotia Nurses’ Union president Janet Hazelton says nurses are being stretched thin. Global News

“It’s really important for their mental health, as well as their physical health to get away from the workplace for more than a day or two and to spend time with their family to go away on a trip. And not to have that ability when they work as hard as they do is really discouraging for them.”

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Read more: Atlantic Canada’s pharmacists want more responsibilities to ease burden on hospitals

Hazelton said some nurses are even talking about quitting if they can’t get time off, or switching to casual work.

“We have to take it very seriously,” she said.

In cabinet on Thursday, Premier Tim Houston said no decisions are easy, but there “was a time and place for restrictions” and “things have changed.”

He said the pressure healthcare workers are under is incredible and he will continue listening to public health for guidance.

Dr. Heather Johnson, president of Doctors Nova Scotia, echoed it’s a difficult time to work in the health care system.

Johnson said doctors feel stressed about the rising case and hospitalization numbers.

Read more: N.S. averaging almost 1,000 cases per day in latest COVID-19 update, hospitalizations up

In Thursday’s weekly update, there were 6,991 positive PCR tests confirmed over a one-week period ending April 6 — an average of nearly 1,000 cases per day.

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There were also 61 new hospital admissions due to COVID-19 and 32 discharges.

— With files from Callum Smith and Alex Cooke.

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