Nova Scotia will not send health-care workers to Ontario, other provinces

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With a third wave of COVID-19 in Nova Scotia, Health Minister Zach Churchill says the province cannot spare sending health-care workers to other provinces. (Robert Short/CBC - image credit)
With a third wave of COVID-19 in Nova Scotia, Health Minister Zach Churchill says the province cannot spare sending health-care workers to other provinces. (Robert Short/CBC - image credit)

Nova Scotia will not send nurses or doctors to Ontario to help that province with its pandemic effort.

The country's largest province is experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases, overwhelming hospitals in some areas. The situation prompted Premier Doug Ford to call for help from the federal government and other provinces.

Health Minister Zach Churchill said in an interview Friday that while Nova Scotia will be sending personal protective equipment and other materials to Ontario, it is not in a position to spare health-care workers.

"That's particularly the case right now where we're seeing a third wave of COVID-19," he said.

Premier Iain Rankin, who previously said the province would not divert vaccine, announced a host of new lockdown measures on Thursday in the face of community spread of the virus within the Halifax region.

Some schools are closed for two weeks and businesses have been forced to scale back operations or, in some cases, close outright for up to four weeks.

Churchill said the situation here is too precarious to send health-care workers elsewhere.

"We do need these resources here, and to shift any resources that are employed within our system to another jurisdiction would affect our ability to deliver health care here and potentially respond to the third wave of COVID."

Churchill said retired doctors or nurses who want to answer the call could be an option for other provinces.

Challenges with nursing staffing levels

Even before the strain the pandemic placed on the health-care system here, there have been challenges with staffing levels, particularly nursing.

Janet Hazelton is the president of the Nova Scotia Nurses' Union.
Janet Hazelton is the president of the Nova Scotia Nurses' Union.(David Laughlin/CBC)

Janet Hazelton, president of the Nova Scotia Nurses' Union, said it's been an ongoing difficulty in recent years keeping staffing levels of critical care nurses where they need to be.

With more and more people feeling the demands of the job on their professional and personal lives, coupled with the fact that more work opportunities are becoming available as a large cohort of nurses retire, Hazelton said many nurses are looking to shift where and how they work.

There are more clinic-based jobs than there used to be, and for many people that's an attractive work environment, she said.

"Those would be Monday-to-Friday clinic jobs and often we find our senior nurses gravitating towards those jobs for obvious reasons: there's less shift work, they often don't work weekends and they like to end out their career in jobs such as those," she said.

"At some point in your career, shift work gets very, very difficult. Lifting, pushing, pulling, it gets very difficult the older we get."

People willing to change jobs

Officials with Nova Scotia Health say it's a trend they've noticed in recent years with newer graduates.

Cynthia Isenor, director of critical care for the health authority's central zone, said in the last 12-18 months they've seen substantial need for critical care nurses at the Yarmouth, South Shore and Cumberland regional hospitals, as well as the QEII Health Sciences Centre.

Like Hazelton, Isenor said they're seeing fewer new nurses treating non-specialty positions as the place they want to spend the duration of their careers, instead considering a variety of options and being willing to change jobs depending on their circumstances.

"What we're seeing, and this is coming out in some of the literature now, is that the lifespan of a nurse in an area is probably three years now," she said in an interview.

"If I think about what it was like 10 and 15 years ago, individuals that came into subspecialty nursing, that was the area they generally remained in."

Like all provinces in the country, nursing recruitment is an ongoing effort in Nova Scotia. Officials in this province use a variety of incentives to attract prospective nurses, including signing bonuses, moving allowances and an employee referral program.

Looking to hire more nurses

Churchill said the province has more nurses than ever and is creating more spaces for training at Dalhousie University and Cape Breton University, but he's also aware of the strain that's on the system right now because of the pandemic.

"We're doing well in terms of competing for recruitment and we're doing well on the training front, but our nurses are working hard. They've got a very difficult job and particularly under these COVID situations where resources are being deployed on an urgent basis to testing and vaccine delivery," he said.

"That does create some more pressures in the regular health-care system that other people are forced to pick up, so we're doing our best to grow that compliment even more going forward."

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