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Recruitment, retention, retirements, workload amongst concerns for nurses, says union president

“It’s real within various workplaces and that’s why this progressive legislation that has been brought into play in other provinces is so important, and why it’s so disturbing to hear the Employers’ Council stay with their regressive view," says Registered Nurses’ Union president Debbie Forward.
Debbie Forward, president of the Registered Nurses’ Union Newfoundland and Labrador, highlighted some concerns around nursing at Charles S. Curtis. -FILE PHOTO

With the start-up of the Save Our Hospital Action Committee on Facebook, many residents on the Great Northern Peninsula are voicing their concerns about cuts at Charles S. Curtis Memorial Hospital in St. Anthony.

One of those concerns centers around the staffing of nurses, particularly whether the hospital is able to recruit and retain to meet the health care needs of clients.

Some of those commenting on Facebook perceived that nurses were working long hours and taking on extra duties to meet those demands.

The Northern Pen recently discussed some of those concerns with Debbie Forward, president of the Registered Nurses’ Union Newfoundland and Labrador (RNU).

According to Forward, seven registered nurses (RNs) have resigned from the St. Anthony hospital in the past eight months.

And that’s not the only reason for concern — she says the number of retirements is increasing too.

Forward says she understands that seven RNs are due to retire from the St. Anthony hospital by the end of 2019.

This is out of 102 RNs on staff at the hospital.

Four RNs are expected to graduate from nursing school this year and arrive in St. Anthony but that does not replace the full slate of nurses leaving or retiring.

In addition to core RNs, Forward also feels more relief positions need to be filled to keep full-time staff from being overworked.

"If someone is off on leave, you need someone to replace them and we know that in this area there are not a lot of relief RNs available and, as a result, there is a lot of overtime being worked at the site and a lot of RNs are being required to work extra shifts, more consecutive shifts, because there are very few people available to fill in those gaps," she told The Northern Pen.

Addressing concerns

Through the RNU's professional practice process, nurses can address concerns about different things that impact their ability to meet standards of practice in providing care to patients.

Forward says they have an active professional practice committee in St. Anthony to address those types of workplace concerns.

Along with upcoming retirements, other concerns brought to the committee highlight the challenge of recruiting new RNs, the workload for RNs, and the inability to meet the core staffing needs required for Charles S. Curtis Memorial Hospital, says Forward.

These issues are too big to address for the committee.

"Many times, some of the issues are resolved, but many times it's bigger than decisions that can be made at the committee level," she said. "For instance, if they're unable to recruit someone to a position or if they're short staff and unable to recruit, then obviously they're bigger issues than the committee can resolve — they're really senior management issues and government issues."

Forward says nursing shortages and frequent turnover are issues throughout the province and throughout LGH, especially in rural and remote areas. As more and more baby boomers retire, they're not being replaced by younger nurses who are willing to stay in the area.

Forward says oftentimes, not just in St. Anthony, young nurses feel they don't get the mentorship and support they need as a new graduate who is dealing with certain illnesses for the first time.

"That is because everyone is working to the max, no one has the time to spend with a new grad in terms of bringing them along, giving them reassurances, the extra time that they need and support that they need," she said. "Many of them feel like they're thrown into the deep end and it's sink or swim."

Forward notes that eventually, this can pose a moral dilemma for nurses as they end up feeling like they cannot provide the level of care they hope to provide. Sometimes, they leave for another nursing job or they leave the occupation entirely.

The Northern Pen requested an interview with Labrador-Grenfell Health CEO Heather Brown to discuss staffing along with other concerns people have with the hospital.

However, Brown was not available to comment prior to The Northern Pen’s Feb. 21 deadline.


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