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

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


Registered nurses tell us they can’t provide patients with the care they need and deserve — not even close. They tell us that they are drowning at work and that there is no light at the end of the tunnel. Registered nurses feel broken and forced to give up the profession they love.

In 2022, more than 300 registered nurses in Newfoundland and Labrador either took early retirement, left the profession altogether, or left permanent employment to do casual work. Normal retirements are not included in this figure.

We enter 2023 in a health crisis. Newfoundlands and Labradors know the problems we face with a glaring shortage of trained nurses. Our healthcare system is more than broken. It can seem hopeless.

Sometimes it also feels hopeless. Right now, registered nurses across the province are being forced to make impossible decisions. A nurse who works in a rural ER recently told us, “I quit my ER job every shift and felt like I could never give enough. I was drained mentally and physically.”

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Our nurses are constantly struggling to decide which patient has priority and who gets the next available bed. Burnout makes them wonder if they missed something or forgot to add a detail to a medical record.

Patients wait for hours in emergency rooms. Seniors wait months to be admitted into long-term care. Customers are waiting for vital public health services and continued care in the community. There is a large backlog of surgeries and procedures, and more than 136,000 residents have no primary health care provider. No one in Newfoundland and Labrador is unaffected by this crisis.

The last thing patients or our registered nurses need is a standoff between the states and the federal government over much-needed healthcare funding.

Registered Nurses want Newfoundlands and Labradors to know that we offer solutions and are happy to work with all levels of government. What we want is simple: that patients finally get the care they need and that registered nurses and other providers can practice their profession in safe and sustainable working conditions.

Linda Silas, President of the Canadian Federation of Nurses Union. – Contributed photo

Governments must do three things to address the nurse shortage crisis: retain experienced nurses in their jobs, bring nurses back into the public sector, and hire nurses where they are needed most. We need proven programs backed by firm timelines and real accountability.

Employee retention is key to tackling the nursing crisis. Working conditions need to be improved to prevent registered nurses from quitting, working part-time or retiring early, and to ensure safe patient care. We need to show nurses that they are valued and respected. At the moment, our registered nurses are the lowest paid in the country. We must offer competitive wages, fight violence in the workplace and make targeted investments in employee retention initiatives.

With 90 percent of caregivers suffering from burnout as a result of working conditions, the federal government should also make direct investments to support return and recruitment initiatives, including mental health programs. We also recommend that 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 that we don’t endlessly repeat staff turnover.

These solutions will help bring nurses and early retirees back into the public sector, reducing the province’s reliance on expensive private travel agencies, while ensuring needs are met across the country. We must also provide adequate support for internationally trained nurses and expand mentoring programs to help students and recent graduates take – and stay in – full-time jobs.

Without nurses there is no health care. Lives literally depend on them. Nurses are not only valuable, they are essential and our entire healthcare system would collapse without them. Nurses deserve secure jobs and patients deserve access to the care they need.

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

Yvette Coffey is President of the Registered Nurses’ Union Newfoundland and Labrador and Linda Silas is President of the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions.

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