The union that represents nurses at the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) says the stress of bed closures and budget cuts is taking its toll.

"Health and safety is telling us there is an increase in sick calls, an increase in sick leave and an increase in resignations," said Denyse Joseph, who heads the Union of Nursing and Cardio-Respiratory Professionals of the MUHC.

In the past few months, Joseph said workload complaints have skyrocketed. 

"We have staff in total distress right now."

The union was brought up to date on the extent of the bed closures earlier this week.

"We lost, within a year, 152 beds, which is 16.3% of our beds," said Joseph.

"What are we going to do for these patients? Where are they going to go?

Before the move to the Glen site, the MUHC had 931 beds.

The MUHC had hoped to operate 853 across its three sites — the Glen, the Montreal General and the Neurological Institute — but had to bring that number down to 799 after the government refused an additional $32 million in transitional funding. 

Summer closures

This summer, the MUHC will temporarily close another 20 beds, bringing the total number of beds to 779. To help manage the closures, there will be restrictions on when nurses can take vacation.

"It's already given by seniority and there are strict quotas for vacation," said Joseph.

"Now they are coming to dictate to the nurses when they can take their vacation."

Impact on patients 

Many doctors have raised serious concerns about the impact of the closures on patient care. Some surgeons predict that it could double wait times for cancer surgery and cause even worse delays for non-urgent surgeries.

Health Minister Gaétan Barrette has remained unmoved by the complaints, repeatedly pointing out that the MUHC agreed to a transition plan in 2007 and now must abide by it.

"If Barrette dares to say today there is no impact on patient care and access to health care services, then he should lose his job," said Joseph.