New Brunswick

Nurse shortage leads to bed closures while province does nothing, says Horizon chair

Saint John Regional Hospital has closed six more beds as a shortage of nurses forces New Brunswick hospitals to reduce services, says the chair of the Horizon Health Network board.

Saint John Regional Hospital forced to close six beds

Horizon Health Network says the province and universities have to do something to get more nursing students this fall. (CBC)

Saint John Regional Hospital has closed six more beds as a shortage of nurses forces New Brunswick hospitals to reduce services, says the chair of the Horizon Health Network board.

Universities and the province need to solve the shortage and increase the number of nursing students in New Brunswick because the situation is getting worse, John McGarry told the board Thursday.

"We're really ticked off that things aren't going fast enough and somebody has got to do their job," he said. 

The Saint John closures come after reductions at Horizon and Vitalité health networks in Bathurst, Moncton and Perth-Andover.

"We don't fund, we don't train, we don't recruit students, but we shut down beds and we shut down facilities," McGarry said. "And that will happen. We're not kidding here, and people need to realize it."

"We've hit the largest, the smallest, the north, the south, the French, the English, all because of this nurse situation. And I think we need people to sort of follow up with our concerns in a bit expedient fashion and a bit more effectively."

John McGarry, the chair of Horizon Health Network's board, has said there are 200 permanent full- and part-time nursing vacancies at Horizon hospitals. (CBC)

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

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

"I haven't heard anything from universities other than we're putting tuition up," McGarry said.

Trevor Holder, the minister responsible for post-secondary eduction, has said the reason for cancelling the funding is the programs weren't creating new seats for students.

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.

On Friday, Holder said in an emailed statement that addressing the nursing shortage is a government priority. The province and others are in the final stages of work on a nursing strategy, "which includes action items," the statement said.

Fall is coming

McGarry wants to see more nursing students enrolled in programs starting in September.

"I'm really scared that July 1st is coming because that's summer. And I'm really scared that September's coming and we're losing a whole cohort that could be sitting in seats," he said. 

"There's more candidates for those seats now. They could be learning in September and more could be learning in January."

Asked for comment, the University of New Brunswick and the University of Moncton both said they are working with the province to address the nursing shortage.

Dr. Petra Hauf, vice-president of UNB Saint John, said the university is also admitting the students who were accepted into the nursing program before the government's budget cuts.

"We are working in partnership with government representatives to ensure we are properly funded to fulfil the nursing educational needs and are committed to finding a solution," said an emailed statement from Hauf. 

With files from Information Morning Moncton

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