With August upon us and six emergency rooms in Quebec partially closed, the government seems to be left scratching its head as to why we are in this mess in the first place. While Health Minister Christian Dubé says he wants nurses to see that a public hospital is an “employer of choice”, he seems unable to prove his point. This summer, so far, has been a staggering flop.
At the end of June, approximately 60,000 healthcare workers were absent from the network for a variety of reasons (nearly 8,000 more than last year) and it’s safe to say that some of them are nurses on stress leave or on non-stress leave. paid absence.
Compounding the problem, many nurses have left the public sector to change careers or work for private agencies, although figures are not available.
Why, one might ask, would a nurse leave a unionized government job with a decent pension in retirement?
Despite having a fairly strong union, nurses still experience systematic abuse in the workplace.
First of all, there is no limit to the number of patients a nurse can have on any given shift. If there are only five nurses for 50 patients in an ER, we have to somehow make it work. Our only recourse is a sit-in or an illegal strike, for which we may be penalized. Making it work means missing our breaks and cutting corners in the care we provide to patients. Yes, it is quite possible that some patients have died or will die as a result.
Second, even with a union, we are still subject to forced and/or coerced overtime. It’s no fun for a single mom to have to pull an unexpected double shift. Combine these two abuses with poorly thought out programming, archaic graphics and workplace software (the software I use where I work is from 1989 and doesn’t even support a mouse), too much time doing secretarial work with paper, and fax machines to Even though everyone has a smartphone and it’s 2022, the lack of any kind of support system and a general ignorance on the part of managers about nurses’ concerns about patient safety (yes, it’s very unsafe for patients if a nurse has 10 instead of five), and it’s no wonder so many have left the system.
Instead of scratching his head and closing the ER, Dubé should end the abuses to which we nurses are subjected.
If I put a limit on the maximum number of patients a nurse could have during her shift, we would no longer feel abused. Of course, the argument against mandatory nurse-to-patient ratios is “we don’t have enough nurses to do that.” I would counter that with the idea that nurses would find their jobs much more enjoyable if they knew they would get a break and not have to cut corners. More would stay in hospitals, nursing students would see that too, and more would come to the bedside.
Forced overtime should be illegal. Again, the argument against it being illegal for a manager to impose forced overtime is that “sometimes there is no other option”. I would counter that with the idea that managers are often nurses themselves! Why do they force a nurse to work a double shift against her will while they’re home sleeping? In our bureaucratic system, there is not just one nurse manager for a particular hospital, but usually three or four! These people should help in the units if necessary.
If nurses felt supported by their managers, if they had decent software in the workplace, if they were listened to and taken seriously, then perhaps many would not have left or would be absent, and those who are considering leaving would stay in the public system, where they are so desperately needed.
Nathan Friedland RN works in a Montreal area emergency room.
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