Nfld. & Labrador

Nurse-short HSC was overwhelmed during holidays: union

The largest hospital in Newfoundland and Labrador was critically short of nurses over the holidays, leading to compromised public service, a union leader says.

The largest hospital in Newfoundland and Labrador was critically short of nurses over the holidays, leading to compromised public service, a union leader says.

The Health Sciences Centre in St. John's was in particularly tough shape on the weekend before New Year's Eve, said Debbie Forward, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Nurses Union.

Staff could not keep up with sick people who presented themselves at the emergency room, Forward said.

"They didn't have any relief nurses available to come and help with workload, and as a result, a number of times, they had to close a unit in emerg because they didn't have enough nurses to staff it," Forward told CBC News.

However, Norma Baker, a senior manager of the Eastern Health regional authority, said that Forward's statement is wrong and that no units were officially closed.

"We may for short periods — like two to three hours, for example — close a particular area. It's not formally closed," Baker said.

"So [problems] may have happened, but certainly we have not closed a unit because we didn't have staffing."

Even so, Forward said no one can deny that there is a nursing shortage in institutions across Newfoundland and Labrador.

Health Minister Ross Wiseman said the province is trying to bridge gaps, but that hiring extra nurses is not the only solution.

"There is no simple solution to this," Wiseman said Friday in an interview. Wiseman said more nurses are working in provincial hospitals, but the demands on the system have been increasing.

"We've had success in recruitment, we've had success in retention," Wiseman said. "What we're witnessing now is a reflection of the health status of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians."

The nurses union persuaded the provincial government late last year to re-open its existing contract. Negotiations on a new deal will begin later this month.

"We need to make sure that our compensation, together with our benefit packages and the working conditions that we provide for our nursing people, are competitive with the rest of the country," Wiseman said.

now