For the past week, Prime Minister Tim Houston and Health Minister Michelle Thompson have been touring the province to speak with healthcare workers to better understand the challenges in the system. In four days, they have conducted more than a dozen sessions in numerous hospitals and health centers, giving front-line workers the opportunity to voice their opinion.
“The bottom line is that they feel overwhelmed,” Houston said in front of Victoria General in Halifax.
“Their own mental health is suffering, their anxiety level is increasing rapidly, they only know that when they go to work they are going to be short-staffed, they are going to be invaded.”
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In the healthcare sector, staffing shortages have been a constant challenge, something that was especially highlighted by the pandemic, and it’s not just about doctors and nurses.
“We have open positions for respiratory technologists, laboratory technicians, physical therapists, environmental services,” said Nan McFadgen, president of CUPE Nova Scotia.
“These are all people who are exhausted and have worked on COVID alongside the nurses and doctors.”
But the premier’s inter-province tour is bringing some optimism to those in the industry that there could be improvements in the future.
“What we are hearing from our members is that this is a new change from our previous government,” McFadgen said. “It is good to have a prime minister who is interested in listening to health workers.”
The sentiment was shared by Doctors Nova Scotia President Heather Johnson, who attended one of the sessions Wednesday at South Shore Regional Hospital.
“The energy there was undeniable. Frontline workers were happy to have an ear, ”he said.
That session was attended by a variety of hospital staff, from nurses, dietitians, and front-line physicians to kitchen workers and house cleaners.
“(They) were all in the same room with the decision makers,” Johnson said.
“If you want a system that works well, you have to make sure that people, not just at the top, but throughout the system, feel that they are involved in the decision making.”
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Although Johnson attended the session as a physician, he says a meeting with Nova Scotia physicians has not yet been scheduled. The Nova Scotia Nurses Union, CUPE and NSGEU say they are also looking forward to a scheduled meeting with the provincial government, but many of its members have had the opportunity to attend sessions open to frontline workers.
On Wednesday, Houston reiterated its commitment to doing everything possible to address challenges in the system and improve healthcare for all Nova Scotians.
“My commitment to the health profession is that we will present some short-term action items, some things that we can do immediately, some in the medium term, and obviously there are some long-term things as well.”
The prime minister said that some of those short-term action items could be implemented in the coming weeks, and while he did not elaborate on what those would be specifically, he said that one of his main focuses will be recruitment and retention.
“There are many problems, but I am not intimidated by my determination to solve them.”
As part of the PC government cabinet, a new Health Professionals Recruitment Office was created. Last week, the office touted its initial success after two anesthetists and a psychiatrist signed job offers to practice in Cape Breton.
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