Part-time nurses at Jewish General Hospital to be forced to work full-time hours

The Jewish General Hospital, one of Montreal's designated COVID-19 hospitals, is dealing with a surge in cases and the need to care for other patients.

The regional health agency is using powers enacted under a ministerial decree at height of COVID-19 pandemic

The Jewish General Hospital in Montreal is dealing with an influx of COVID-19 patients and trying to maintain services in surgery, oncology and obstetrics. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

Barely recovered from a first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, part-time nurses at Montreal's Jewish General Hospital will be forced to work full-time as of Monday, Oct. 5.

"Believe me, if I could, I wouldn't do this measure," said Lucie Tremblay, director of nursing at the CIUSSS du Centre-Ouest-de-l'Île-de-Montréal. "But we need to care for more and more patients with COVID, and we're keeping all our other activities, surgery and oncology, open."

The news comes as the province is dealing with a drastic increase in coronavirus cases and as the hospital, which is one of the designated COVID-19 treatment centres in Montreal, copes with a jump in hospitalizations.

Tremblay said, as of Friday, there were 10 patients in regular beds that needed to be transferred to the COVID unit. She told CBC the hospital has to take extra measures to accommodate those added patients.

"We need to open a new ward and therefore I need the support of all the nurses," said Tremblay. "And increasing their working hours is the only way that we're able to care for everybody who needs our care."

The CIUSSS is using the powers it has under a ministerial decree issued by former Health Minister Danielle McCann in March.

The decree allows the health authority to override collective agreements in areas such as vacation time and working hours.

Lucie Tremblay, director of nursing at the CIUSSS du Centre-Ouest-de-l'Île-de-Montréal says they need all hands on deck. (Submitted by the CIUSSS du Centre-Ouest-de-l'Île-de-Montréal)

Tremblay said the hospital asked for volunteers to step forward to work full-time hours. Not enough came forward, so she said the hospital enacted the measure.

In an email to nurses in the hospital's emergency room, the unit's coordinator said she understands part-time nurses have teaching, family and personal obligations.

Tremblay said the hospital would do its best to accommodate those nurses and find solutions.

Nurses frustrated

"You know, and I think everybody, they understand, given the context that we are in, we're in a pandemic," said one nurse at the Jewish General who spoke with the CBC. We agreed to not use the nurse's name because they fear for their job for speaking out. "These are challenging times and resources are limited."

But the nurse said it was frustrating and disappointing that the Ministry of Health was not better prepared for the second wave of COVID-19.

"The minister of health had the summer to prepare for this. And aside from getting 10,000 [patient attendants] in the CHSLDs, I didn't really see that many changes in terms of staffing numbers to allow us to be able to accommodate the second wave, which we were predicting would happen for several months now."

The nurse predicted that even more nurses will leave the profession because of measures such as this. Hundreds of nurses left after the first wave of the pandemic.

"I'm not even saying it's a shortage. People are now describing this as a hemorrhage," said the nurse. "There's a lot of nurses that are leaving the profession just because we're not working in environments that favour retention."

The CIUSSS says it has no idea how long it will have to keep this measure in place.

Tremblay said a lot depends on how well the public follows the rules aimed at stopping the spread of the virus.

"This is why it's so important to respect public health directives," said Tremblay. "We need to care for everybody. We need to care for the patient with cancer. We need to care for patients that need dialysis. We need to care for mothers giving birth. So when we need to care on top of it for our patients with COVID, it extends our resources. I beg the population to please respect those directives."

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