Paula Doucet, the president of the New Brunswick Nurses Union, says working nurses across the province are facing a pandemic of their own.
Local nurses and supporters gathered in front of the New Brunswick Provincial Legislative Building Friday to rally for change surrounding poor working conditions and short staffing levels. It was part of a National Day of Action held by the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions.
Doucet said New Brunswick’s current nursing shortage is not unique. Provinces across Canada are facing similar issues. She estimates there are around 1,000 positions for registered nurses that need to be filled.
It’s a concern as a rural province with some of the country’s oldest and most chronically ill population, Doucet said. It comes on the heels of recent emergency room closures in areas across New Brunswick.
“We’ve kept the system together the first six months of 2021 with 190,000 hours of overtime being worked in our two regional health authorities,” said Doucet. “Nurses are tired, nurses are stressed and they’re saying, ‘enough is enough, we can’t keep up at this pace.’”
As for reasons behind the area’s significant shortage, Doucet said it’s about recruitment and retention. She said nurses have not been paid well, don’t feel respected and aren’t promised safe working conditions. Doucet considers it “one of the worst nursing shortages ever.”
“Nurses are leaving and they’re going elsewhere, or they’re quitting the profession altogether,” she said, adding she hears a lot of union members discuss what she calls “compassion fatigue.”
“Right now, that compassion we have for our patients, our residents and our clients has been depleted because of our working conditions.”
Doucet said nurses have petitioned the provincial government for many years, expressing the region was on the verge of a serious nursing crisis.
June Patterson, who’s running in the federal election as the Communist Party of Canada candidate for Fredericton, calls New Brunswick’s nursing crisis “a shameful situation” and says Premier Blaine Higgs’ behaviour towards nurses and public servants “has been horrible.”
“He once commented that if nurses want higher wages, they should move to Alberta,” said Patterson. “These nurses are constituents of Blaine Higgs [and] I think it’s an absolutely shameful way to treat the people who are taking care of … the aging population that we have here.”
Patterson fears New Brunswick’s healthcare system will “completely collapse,” if nurses don’t receive fair wages and training. In her campaign, she wants healthcare funding to build a strong public health system and pay workers a living wage to keep them in the province.
Young people are leaving the province to seek work, Patterson said. She wants to see an end to that situation and have New Brunswick be a place where people can raise a family.
Doucet said she is always open to conversations with stakeholders to develop a solution that stands up for the region’s nurses. She said that involves promising new and existing nurses liveable wages, safe working conditions and the ability to take time off and recuperate.
“I don’t pretend to have all of the answers. What I want to do is sit down and have the conversation,” said Doucet.
“I think [Higgs] is starting to hear me, but what I say is very true: it’s very real about what’s happening back in the workplaces and I’m just elevating the voice of the nurses across this province.”