Leadership Notes

N.L. nurses feeling broken, forced to walk away from jobs they love

March 14, 2023

This Op-ed was posted January 27, 2023 via Saltwire. Click here to read.

Registered nurses tell us they cannot provide the care patients need and deserve – not even close to it. They tell us they are drowning at work and there is no light at the end of the tunnel. Registered nurses feel broken and forced to walk away from the profession they love.

In 2022, more than 300 registered nurses in Newfoundland and Labrador either retired early, left the profession altogether or left permanent jobs to go casual. This number doesn’t include normal retirements.

We are starting 2023 in a health crisis. Newfoundlanders and Labradorians know the problems we are facing with a dire shortage of registered nurses. Our health-care system is beyond broken. It can seem hopeless.

Sometimes it feels hopeless, too. Right now, registered nurses across the province are forced to make impossible choices. One RN working in a rural emergency room recently told us “I left my job at the emergency department every shift feeling I could never give enough. I was drained mentally and physically.”

Our nurses are constantly struggling to decide which patient gets priority and who gets the next available bed. Burnout leaves them wondering if they missed something or forgot to add a detail to a patient’s chart.

Patients are waiting hours on end in emergency departments. Seniors are waiting months to get into long-term care. Clients are waiting for vital public health services and continuing care in the community. There is a major backlog of surgeries and procedures, and more than 136,000 residents are without a primary health-care provider. No one in Newfoundland and Labrador is untouched by this crisis.

The last thing patients or our registered nurses need is a stalemate between the provinces and federal government over desperately needed healthcare funding.

Registered nurses want Newfoundlanders and Labradorians to know we are offering solutions and eager to collaborate with all levels of government. What we want is simple: for patients to finally receive the care they need, and for registered nurses and other providers to practice their profession under safe and sustainable working conditions.

Governments must do three things to fix the nursing shortage crisis: keep experienced registered nurses in their jobs, bring registered nurses back to the public sector, and recruit registered nurses where they are needed most. We need proven programs, backed by firm timelines and real accountability.

Retention is key to addressing the nursing crisis. To stop registered nurses from quitting, going part-time, or retiring early, and ensure safe patient care, working conditions must be improved. We must show registered nurses they are valued and respected. Right now, our registered nurses and nurse practitioners are the lowest paid in the country. We need to offer competitive wages, address violence in the workplace, and make targeted investments in retention initiatives.

With 90 per cent of nurses experiencing burnout due to the working conditions, the federal government should also be making direct investments to support return and recruitment initiatives, including mental health programming. We are also recommending the federal government establish a collaborative health workforce council of provincial and territorial health ministries. This council would be mandated to improve local and regional health workforce planning and capacity building, so we do not repeat staffing fluctuations endlessly.

These solutions will help bring nurses and early-retirees back to the public sector, reducing the province’s reliance on expensive private travel agencies while still ensuring surge needs are met across the country. We also need to provide adequate support to Internationally Educated Nurses and scale up mentoring programs to support students and new grads to take full-time jobs – and remain in those jobs.

There is no healthcare without nurses. Lives depend on them, literally. Nurses are not just valuable, they’re indispensable and our entire health-care system would collapse without them. Nurses deserve safe workplaces and patients deserve access to the care they need.

Governments are struggling to work together to reach an agreement on healthcare funding. It’s time to stop the blame game and take immediate action.

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