Nova Scotia nurses joined their colleagues across Canada in a rally Friday.
Nurses assembled, placards in hand, in front of the Nova Scotia Nurses' Union headquarters in Halifax to demand that the nursing crisis be addressed and to call for improvements in health care.
Janet Hazelton, the union president, said a turnout of fewer than 50 nurses at the Halifax rally was a direct result of staffing shortages that meant nurses could not get time off work to participate.
She said the union has been calling for the nursing shortage to be addressed for over a decade and the pandemic has made the situation far worse.
"When COVID happened for a very long time, people weren't allowed in, so extra duties fell on the nurse," she said.
"So the nurse now has to give out medications, look after everything and be the family member for those patients and residents."
She said nurses have had to endure 24-hours shifts and cancelled time off during the pandemic in addition to a greater workload.
According to Hazelton, national figures indicate that 60 per cent of nurses are ready to leave the profession.
It's a startling figure that resonates with Glenda Sabine, a long-term care nurse at the rally, who has been in the profession for 25 years.
"I have thought about it," Sabine said. "I've been a nurse for 25 years."
Sabine said she only stays on because she cares about the people she looks after, but it has been exhausting.
Jen Thiele, a registered nurse at the Dartmouth General Hospital, said the experience of the pandemic has been "incredibly deflating," noting that COVID-19 made the nursing shortage 10 times worse.
Thiele said the province needs more nurses, not just in acute care but also in primary care and long-term care.
"Because without health workers, there is no health care," she said. "That's my biggest message."
Hazelton said Nova Scotia has 1,500 nursing vacancies. Long-term care beds have closed because of a shortage of nurses, she said.
Hazelton said she is pleased that the new Nova Scotia government has added ministerial portfolios for mental health, long-term care and, especially, recruitment and retention and said the union plans to monitor for measurable progress.
She said the union is also keeping an eye on the federal election where "every party is saying health care is number one."
"Well, we're here to say that's good, but we intend to hold all of them accountable for all of the promises they made."
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