New Brunswick

Nursing shortage is putting health care at risk, Horizon chair says

New Brunswick's nursing shortage is putting health-care programs and services at risk, says the chair of Horizon Health Network's board of governors.

Health authority says there are 200 positions that need to be filled across the province

The Nursing Association of New Brunswick has said they are expecting a shortage of 5,000 nurses in the next five years. (CBC)

New Brunswick's nursing shortage is putting health-care programs and services at risk, says the chair of Horizon Health Network's board of governors.

John McGarry said there are 200 permanent, full- and part-time nursing vacancies at Horizon hospitals across the province, with the greatest need in Saint John, Moncton and some smaller communities.  

"In two areas we're in jeopardy," he said. "Not enough [nurses] coming into the system and too many leaving the system. It's not something that we didn't recognize, I think we saw it a long time ago."

In April, the provincial government announced it would be cutting $8.7 million in funding for nursing programs.

Trevor Holder, the minister of post-secondary education, training and labour, has said the reason for cancelling the funding is the programs weren't creating new seats for students.

Holder said in a statement Thursday the province is in the "final stages" of developing a nursing resource strategy.

"The previous nursing seat agreement was not helping add more nurses to our health-care system. We will continue working with our partners on how we can address the nursing shortage," Holder said.

"Participation from all will be crucial to the success of addressing the challenges we face since the problems are multifaceted and complex and it will require us all to play a role."

McGarry said he understands government is having financial difficulties and needed to pull back funding for the extra seats that had not been sustained. He said this allowed people to see the debate about the cost of training nurses.  

But McGarry is worried there's been a pause on the issue of creating more nurses, which he said needs to be addressed before September when regular university classes start.

"Now that that's done, let's start again," he said. "Let's put the money back in. Let's get the seats up. Let's get recruitment going in a more focused fashion and deal with the problem rather than talk about the problem."     

The province has said two nursing-seat purchase agreements were signed with University of New Brunswick and the University of Moncton in 2005-2006.

The agreements, which expired March 31, were to fund 95 additional nursing seats a year — 57 at UNB and 38 at Moncton.

"I know for sure that there's probably 50 students sitting in science right now who would love to get into nursing if indeed there were spots there," he said.

The head of Horizon Health says the hospital system is headed for big trouble, and a critical shortage of nurses. John McGarry is chair of the board of governors of the Horizon Health Network. 13:23

"Let's decide right now to get them into nursing starting in September, rather than wait until September and then people say, 'Well we can't do this until January or we can't do it until next September 2020."

The Nursing Association of New Brunswick has said they are expecting a shortage of 5,000 nurses in the next five years.

Finding nurses elsewhere

A strategy also needs to be addressed regarding recruitment outside the province, particularly international recruitment, he said.

"That's probably where we have a real opportunity," he said. "Internationally, we could have nurses by the end of the year, ready to work."

McGarry also made reference to this week's closure of the Campbellton Regional Hospital's obstetrics and pediatric services.

The obstetrics unit at the Bathurst hospital was also closed for several weeks last year and early into 2019 due to a nursing shortage. In April, Hotel-Dieu of St. Joseph in Perth-Andover closed six of its 22 beds because of a shortage or registered nurses.

"If we don't train them, there's no way that we're going to get them here in New Brunswick," he said.

CBC News could not immediately reach the University of New Brunswick, the University of the Moncton and the province for comment.

With files from Information Morning Fredericton

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