Nfld. & Labrador

Exhausted nurses have 'had enough,' leader says as N.L. rallies highlight staffing shortage

On Friday the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions is mobilizing across the country, demanding urgent action to fix what they're calling a nursing crisis.

There's a 30% shortage on registered nurses in N.L., says Linda Silas

Linda Silas, president of the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions, says Newfoundland and Labrador is about 30 per cent short of registered nurses. (CBC)

Health-care workers are feeling understaffed and overworked, with many saying enough is enough. 

It's been a point of contention in Newfoundland and Labrador for a long time, with health-care professionals from doctors to paramedics feeling the pressures of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, overflowing emergency rooms and a dwindling workforce. 

On Friday the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions is mobilizing in an information picket blitz to demand urgent action to fix what they're calling a nursing crisis, not only in Newfoundland and Labrador, but across the country.

On the home front, 15 locations across N.L. — from St. John's to Happy Valley-Goose Bay — will see nurses and their supporters on Friday. 

"The crisis is the shortage within the health-care workforce. If you look at our country as a whole, we have over 100,000 health-care workers missing from the system," CFNU president Linda Silas told CBC Radio's St. John's Morning Show.

"That's from physicians to personal-care workers."

In Newfoundland and Labrador, Silas said, there's a 30 per cent shortage of registered nurses, and about 20 per cent of currently working registered nurses are ready to retire.

"They've had enough, and that's scary for Newfoundland and Labrador," Silas said. "But when I look at the rest of the country, we're seeing 25 per cent of nurses saying, 'I've had enough of this pandemic. With government ignoring me, I want to leave health care as a whole.'"

Silas says the solution to the nursing shortage problem involves working with federal leaders and creating a federal agency to help provinces and territories have better planning in health care.  (Paul Daly/CBC)

Silas said so many nurses willing to leave the sector completely is something that has never been seen before.

She said the nursing shortage itself is something her organization has been working to fix for the last decade by advising the provincial government on the shortfalls of recruiting and retaining the workforce. 

Post-pandemic fears

According to Silas, the pandemic actually saved health-care workers from walking away from their jobs. She said many workers stayed because of their commitment to their patients and their professions. 

But she said she worries about what will happen when the pandemic ends.

"Wait times for surgeries and special treatments is skyrocketing everywhere, and you can't have a surgery without having a hospital bed with specialty-trained nurses," she said. 

"Surgeons and specialists are realizing that and are telling government, 'You need to find ways to keep our nurses, because our patients will suffer.'"

Silas said the the solution to the problem involves working with federal leaders and creating a federal agency to help provinces and territories have better planning in health care. 

She said the research is done regarding nurse-patient ratios and retention and recruitment strategies, but government isn't listening.

"It's either you want to keep us, and have a healthy workforce, or you're going to have to change dramatically how we deliver health care in our country," she said.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from The St. John's Morning Show

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