New Brunswick

'I just couldn't say no': 85-year-old nurse among retirees returning to fight COVID-19

The only objection 85-year-old Marg Miller heard when she said she was going back to work was her daughter saying “are you sure?”

'Nanny has to do what nanny wants to do,' Marg Miller tells her concerned grandchildren

Marg Miller, 85, rejoined the ranks at a nursing home just three months after retirement to help keep her residents safe during COVID-19. (Submitted by Kim Cormier)

The only objection 85-year-old Marg Miller heard when she said she was going back to work was her daughter saying "Are you sure?"

"And then in the next breath she said 'I know you probably made up your mind already'," Miller laughed. 

Miller, who worked as a geriatric registered nurse for 12 years before retiring in November, didn't hesitate to go back to Villa Renaissance nursing home in Dalhousie to lighten the pressure COVID-19 is putting on the home.

She had just put her house up for sale in preparation to move to Alberta with her daughter and son-in-law, so she thought "why not?"

"I have all this time, so why not go and help them. Those poor souls needed me more than I need them," she said.

"I'm healthy and I've been working all the time. I knew I would be an asset to them. And I just couldn't say no."

She said her family, including her grandchildren, are concerned for her safety.

"They're concerned that nanny may get sick, but nanny has to do what nanny wants to do."

Miller said she didn't hesitate to return to work because she finds the work she does rewarding, and knew people needed her. (Submitted by Kim Cormier)

In a statement, Horizon Health Network chief human resource officer Maura McKinnon said 14 retired health-care workers have gone back to work since early March, and 17 more are available if needed.

Ten of the 14 are registered nurses, one is a personal care attendant, one a human resource worker, one works in diagnostic imaging and one in engineering

She said the network has "fluctuating needs at this time, but there is always a need for screeners in our facilities to keep patients and staff safe."

McKinnon said it's hard to say exactly what the needs of tomorrow will be.

"Our priority for redeployment is our current staff who have been impacted by a change in departmental services," she said. "That being said, any retirees that can support our facilities are encouraged to respond to our call out for assistance and complete the survey.

The patients seemed to be so much more appreciative of what you did because they couldn't do a whole lot of things themselves.- Marg Miller, registered nurse.

The Nurses' Association of New Brunswick has created a temporary emergency registration process for retired and non-practising nurses looking to return to work during the pandemic. 

To date, around 50 retired or resigned nurses have registered through this process, said spokesperson Jennifer Whitehead.

The New Brunswick Medical Society has also reinstated 15 physicians who were re-licensed to respond to COVID-19. In a statement, spokesperson Eric Lewis said it's not clear if all 15 have actually returned to practice yet. 

At the daily press conference Friday, Premier Blaine Higgs says staffing levels in the province are "good."

"We're certainly monitoring very closely to ensure people's work schedule is appropriate — that we're not seeing, you know, situations where people are working excessive hours and getting tired unnecessarily," he said.

'Upbeat' nursing home

Miller said the mood in her nursing home is "quite upbeat."

"We're doing very, very well. Management is bending over backwards for us and we're doing everything that we have ever been asked to do," she said.

Miller said she does have concerns over her safety, just like everyone else, but she doesn't dwell on it.

"When I go to work I sort of take that away from me and run. And I do all the precautions."

And what if she gets the virus?

"Well, that's unfortunate but it was my choice to go back there and I think I'm going to beat it. I think we're all going to beat it over here."

Nursing home precautions

Miller said employees are screened when they come in, including checking temperatures. They also use masks and gloves when doing personal care and dispensing medications.

"We're doing everything we have to do," she said.

Miller says she finds long-term care nursing very rewarding work.

"The patients seemed to be so much more appreciative of what you did because they couldn't do a whole lot of things themselves," she said. 

She said she's not sure where she gets all of her energy.

"I guess it must be in my genes, I don't know," she laughed.

But she said she also makes sure she doesn't burn out — or burn the candle at both ends. She worked just three shifts a week and never three shifts in a row.

She's registered to work for 90 days, and could work for longer if she's still needed.

"As long as my house is still … up for sale. I will be staying here anyway," she said. 


Hadeel Ibrahim is a reporter with CBC New Brunswick based in Saint John. She reports in English and Arabic. Email:

With files from Information Morning Moncton


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