Staff shortages mean delay in vacation approvals for local nurses

By Lois Ann Dort    

GUYSBOROUGH – Nurses at Guysborough and Canso hospitals may have to put vacation plans on hold. On Friday, March 15 a memo was distributed to the nursing staff of Guysborough Memorial Hospital and Eastern Memorial Hospital in Canso stating that summer vacation requests could not currently be approved due to staffing shortages at the hospitals. Shortly after the memo was posted on social media and media outlets across the province picked up the story.

The memo, signed by Angela MacArthur, director of integrated health for rural hospitals for the Nova Scotia Health Authority (NSHA), stated, “Unfortunately due to current nursing staffing challenges we are unable to approve any summer vacation requests at this time...We do realize that this is not ideal but we will continue to work toward allowing vacations as operationally possible.”

Last Friday, Carla Adams, NSHA's senior advisor, media relations public engagement and communications, told The Journal that there were two RN and two LPN positions open at each facility. “Once those positions are filled they'll be back up to full staffing.”

Speaking to the memo, Adams said, “The memo was meant to highlight that the vacations could not be approved by March 15 but that does not mean that they won't get vacations.”

In an email response to further questions about the staffing shortage Adams stated, “While postings for some current nursing vacancies at the two hospitals are still active, other postings have recently come down and we are preparing to interview candidates. We also have successful candidates from the previous postings, as well as someone returning from a leave. At this stage we are planning to have some positions filled within the next several weeks.”

When asked about the current state of recruitment activities, Adams wrote, “Recruitment for nursing positions within NSHA is ongoing. Opportunities are advertised internally and externally, through regular networking, job fairs and through direct contact with nursing schools/programs and graduates. It is a challenge to fill either full time or temporary positions in some rural areas of Nova Scotia, including here in the Eastern Zone. Amidst the challenge, we work hard to recruit and identify candidates for nursing positions and remain hopeful.”

The response of the Health Authority to the staffing shortage is not acceptable to the president of the Nova Scotia Nurses Union, Janet Hazelton. “We, the union, are filing grievances about that issue because that is just not acceptable,” she said in a phone interview with The Journal on Friday.

“Nurses work very hard and they need their time off, they need their vacation time with their family to reboot and rejuvenate – they've earned it. And saying that there are no nurses to replace you is not appropriate, it's not an appropriate response from an employer or the Health Authority. I have called the Human Resources in the Health Authority to say just that. It is their responsibility as an employer to figure out how to get vacations for those nurses and I know that Guysborough and those areas are hard to recruit to, I understand that, but there has to be a solution besides ‘you're not getting your vacation.’”

Hazelton went on to say that staffing shortages needed to be addressed at the level of nursing school places in Nova Scotia universities. “There is a wait list to get into nursing school,” she said noting that employment demands should be linked educational opportunities.

Hazelton also suggested that in the case of rural hospitals, incentives may be needed to acquire and maintain staff. “We're going to have to look to see what are some of the solutions, because saying 'No' is not a solution.”