More than two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, overworked nurses in Nova Scotia are leaning on each other for support, but some say that can only go on for so long until they burn out completely.
"A lot of us have been working a lot of overtime and not really having good days of rest or any vacation for a very long time," Anne Boutilier, a licensed practical nurse in the emergency room of the Dartmouth General Hospital, told CBC Nova Scotia's Information Morning.
"We need to vent, we need to support each other … We do check-ins each day to see how we're doing mentally."
Boutilier said while she has some approved vacation time this summer, it's not clear who is going to cover her shifts.
Many nurses are reducing their hours from full-time to part-time or taking out-of-province contracts to try and find a healthier work-life balance, according to Janet Hazelton, president of the Nova Scotia Nurses' Union.
Others are leaving the profession altogether.
It's a problem Hazelton said needs to be addressed. There have been staffing shortages across Nova Scotia's health-care system for years, but Hazelton said COVID-19 highlighted the issues.
In the provincial health authority alone, there are more than 1,000 vacancies — 800 for registered nurses and 200 for licensed practical nurses. On top of that, she said "several hundred" staff are off sick with COVID-19 or caring for family members who have COVID-19.
Recruitment and retention
Hazelton said she's "optimistic" about the province's recruitment efforts, including guaranteeing permanent full-time jobs to all new nursing graduates, but there needs to be a plan for retention.
"They're tired. They need a break, they need to rest, and it has to happen," she said. "You can't keep working these nurses day and night without a break because it's not healthy and it's not sustainable."
With such severe staffing shortages in the health-care sector, those breaks will come at a cost. It could mean a slowdown in some services or longer wait times than what emergency rooms are already seeing.
"None of that is ideal. So we need to talk to nurses. We need to figure out what it is they need to do or what we need to do to keep them in the system," Hazelton said.
"Not just in the system, but in the system healthy and happy."
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