Nova Scotia

Staff crunch puts summer vacation on hold for nurses at 2 N.S. hospitals

Nurses at two Nova Scotia hospitals are being told summer vacation requests can’t be approved until staffing shortages are addressed.

Eastern Memorial and Guysborough Memorial both dealing with nursing shortages

The health authority is preparing to hire 350 nursing graduates, but right now a shortage at two hospitals is delaying vacation approvals. (CBC)

Nurses at two Nova Scotia hospitals are being told summer vacation requests can't be approved until staffing issues are addressed.

A memo went out to nursing staff of Guysborough Memorial Hospital and Eastern Memorial Hospital on Friday from Angela MacArthur, director of integrated health for rural hospitals in the Nova Scotia Health Authority.

"We will continue to work on these requests and will notify individual nurses if and when we can approve their vacation as soon as we are able," MacArthur wrote in the memo, which made the rounds on social media.

"We do realize that this is not ideal but we will continue to work toward allowing vacations as operationally possible."

This memo was sent to nursing staff at two rural hospitals on Friday. (Facebook)

A spokesperson for the health authority said recruitment is ongoing at both hospitals.

At Eastern Memorial, located in Canso, there are three postings for registered nurses. Two licensed practical nurses are in the process of being hired.

At Guysborough Memorial, meanwhile, there are three openings for registered nurses and two for licensed practical nurses.

"Nursing recruitment is an ongoing process that is happening each and every day within Nova Scotia Health Authority," Carla Adams said via email.

She said these are the only two hospitals where staffing issues are affecting summer vacation approvals.

'It's always been tough'

Nova Scotia Nurses' Union president Janet Hazelton said staffing at the smallest rural hospitals in the province is a challenge that's more common than she would like.

"It's always been tough," she said.

Hazelton said part of the challenge is the employer is still getting used to changes in the vacation request system that came with nurses' most recent contract, which calls for them to ensure coverage is in place. But she said staffing shortages are exacerbating the situation.

Some of the most challenging places to recruit are now offering incentive bonuses, Hazelton noted.

"If you don't have a shortage, why are you paying recruitment bonuses?

Adams said the health authority is working to hire 350 new registered nurse graduates based on need projections for the next 12 months.

But Hazelton said even with the employer hiring every nurse it can get, it's still not enough.

Retirements coming

Like many professions, nursing is preparing for a wave of retirements. To make matters even more challenging, it's coming at a time when patients are becoming increasingly complex and many struggle to access primary care.

"Many of our emergency departments are overcrowded and people are waiting 10-to-12 hours not because they have an emergency," but because they struggle to get primary-care access, said Hazelton.

After extensive research, the union is preparing to release a report with its recommendations on how to improve primary health care.

"What our report is trying to say is we need to take the pressure off the valves," said Hazelton.

Recommendations will include getting nurse practitioners into emergency departments to deal with non-emergency cases so people can be seen and sent on their way while doctors and emergency staff deal with the most critical cases.

"It's a no-brainer," said Hazelton.

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About the Author

Michael Gorman is a reporter in Nova Scotia whose coverage areas include Province House, rural communities, and health care. Contact him with story ideas at michael.gorman@cbc.ca

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