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N.B. nurses union wants burnout issues addressed

Source: Michael Robinson Telegraph Journal – April 27, 2018

The New Brunswick Nurses Union is calling for a “better system” to be put in place in lieu of the nursing burnout unfolding in hospital wards across the province.

“We are providing the best care under the circumstances but at some point, things need to change,” said union president Paula Doucet.

She spent 13 years working as an emergency nurse in Bathurst.

“Nurses are going to work not knowing when they are going to end their shift … they are resilient but that resilience is growing thin.”

According to the results of an ongoing study reported last week in the Telegraph-Journal, roughly half of nurses and nursing support staff working in the Saint John Regional Hospital’s emergency room left the position over a seven-year-period, citing work-related stress.

The finding, gleaned from staff feedback available to researchers from 2011 to 2017, came to light as part of an ongoing study into worker burnout.

Lead investigator Dr. Michael K. Howlett, an emergency physician and Dalhousie University professor, said turnover may be linked to constant overcrowding issues, where admitted patients awaiting a hospital bed create a backlog in the emergency department.

“When nurses recognize that they are stressed and burned out, and need to make a change, we support that,” said Laurie Janes, executive director of the Nurses Association of New Brunswick, the provincial regulator of the profession.

In acknowledging nurses are under demands to offer more complex care today than a decade ago, Janes said the regulator partnered with the nurse’s union to offer one-day “compassion fatigue” workshops providing techniques for nurses to self-manage their stress.

Barry Watson, an assistant professor at UNB Saint John specializing in health and labour economics, said it is inevitable that high-stress occupations will see higher turnover rates.

“You can’t reduce the stress of the job totally, so eventually if people realize there are positions with less stress and fairly equivalent pay, they will go there instead,”he said.

Aside from the complexities associated with caring for aging patients, today’s emergency room nurses and support staff face overwhelming workloads fuelled by the chronic shortage itself, Watson said.

The Department of Health maintains it is aware of the rising demand for more nurses. In a statement last week, spokesperson Paul Bradley said the government created a “nursing resource strategy” committee in December 2017 and tasked it with finding a solution.

The committee has so far met three times, most recently on April 23, according to department spokesperson Bruce Macfarlane.

“The work continues with the committee developing a strategy to bring forward to government in the near future,”he wrote in an email Thursday.

Tory health critic Brian Macdonald said he was unimpressed by the Gallant government’s response to the ongoing personnel “crisis” unfolding across the province.

“A working group alone is not going to do it… what I want to see is an action plan,” said Macdonald, MLA for Fredericton West-Hanwell.

Nursing and bed shortages have been cited as issues across the province.

In late February, officials at the Moncton City Hospital temporarily shut down a non-acute section of its emergency unit over a weekend due to a nursing shortage.

A month later, New Brunswick’s largest francophone hospital, the Dr. Georges-L.-Dumont University Hospital Centre, was forced to divert ambulances away to Moncton city hospital due to overcrowding.

With files from Tom Bateman

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