New Brunswick's health-care system and its nurses are slowly starting to crumble under pressures from a nursing shortage and the COVID-19 pandemic, says the president of the province's nurses union.
Paula Doucet said the province needs to slow down or amalgamate health-care services for a period of time, with the exception of emergency services, and look at the human resources available in the system.
"This is an exceptional time we are living in right now," Doucet said on Information Morning Fredericton.
"So I'm not saying every change you're going to make today is forever. But I think we need to address the issue right now."
In some instances, Doucet said nurses are working up to 36-hour shifts over the past 14 months.
"You can't keep doing that to human beings," she said. "They just can't keep going at the pace they're going."
New Brunswick had a nursing shortage before the pandemic hit a year ago. But Doucet also said the pressure from COVID-19 have forced more nurses to take time off for stress leave.
She said there are at least 700 vacant nursing positions across the province now.
"There's nobody to call upon. … they're exhausted."
In her 25 years on the job, Doucet said, she has never seen a nursing situation like this.
The Dr. Georges-L.-Dumont University Hospital Centre in Moncton and the Stella-Maris-de-Kent Hospital in Sainte-Anne-de-Kent have been limiting hospital admissions for almost a month.
Earlier this week, Dr. Martin Robichaud, Vitalité Health Network's medical director for the Beauséjour region, said the Moncton hospital is struggling because of a significant lack of nurses.
"It's not easy because it's an international problem," he said. "We're talking six million vacant positions worldwide and that is expected to grow to 18 million in 2030. So it's not going to get better."
Robichaud said many nurses are retiring, while others have left for jobs in the private sector or outside the province.
In 2019, the Horizon Health Network and Vitalité Health Network reported a need for an additional 520 registered nurses a year for the next five years.
Although Vitalité is trying to recruit more nurses, he said hospitals across the province are also dealing with a similar shortage.
Doucet said Premier Blaine Higgs, the ministers of health and social development, and the two health authorities to discuss better working conditions for nurses.
"We're one accident away from our system crumbling, and that's the truth," she said.
"I'm not fear mongering. I'm being very realistic when I say, 'we have some facilities that are in dire, dire straits.'"