“This government loves setting up committees and creating plans and strategies that it never implements. What we need is action.”- David Coon
Article by: JOHN CHILIBECK Legislature Bureau
Staff shortages that have caused bottlenecks at hospital emergency rooms and nursing homes in New Brunswick could be solved if the government started hiring more nurses, say opposition critics.Both Progressive Conservative and Green party MLAs were unimpressed with cabinet minister Roger Melanson’s explanation in a committee at the legislature Friday that the problems were already being addressed through three different committees.
“We’re analyzing these situations to death and we need to get some recruiting done,” said Ernie Steeves, the Tory MLA for Moncton Northwest in an interview. “We need to actively recruit by going out to, I don’t know, Vancouver and saying, ‘listen, just so you know, if you’re a nurse you can come to Moncton and buy a house for $100,000.’ Which of course, you’ll never be able to do in Vancouver or Toronto or a number of other cities.”
On Saturday, a nursing shortage caused the closure of the non-acute area of The Moncton Hospital’s emergency department.
Meanwhile, complaints from the public have been raised about wait times at the ERs at the Dr. Everett Chalmers Regional Hospital in Fredericton and the Miramichi Regional Hospital, with officials saying they are running at overcapacity on many days.
Earlier this week, Lisa Harris, the minister of seniors and long-term care, disclosed during budget estimates that about 112 nursing home beds across the province were empty because of staff shortages, including a lack of registered nurses, licensed practical nurses and personal assistants. Three of them – Villa du Repos in Moncton, Villa Providence Shediac and Kiwanis Nursing Home in Sussex – have the most vacancies, with about 30 beds in each left open.
This is happening despite a long wait list to get in, with up to 400 to 600 frail seniors trying to get a nursing home bed at any given time.
“Labour shortages and labour challenges are not unique to the nursing sector,” Melanson said in an interview Friday. “It’s the reality caused by our aging population and people retiring. Am I concerned about the future? No, because we are doing our due diligence with stakeholders now to come up with some solutions.”
The minister responsible for post-secondary education said the three committees, which include representation from government, the regional health authorities, unions and associations, are working hard to solve the shortages.
Melanson and another minister – Gilles LePage, responsible for labour – met with the nursing association to discuss the issue just this week.
“These people actually understand the various needs for recruiting and retaining the staffing we need. The solution will come from them, and government will be a partner to help implement these solutions.”As examples, Melanson said high school students would get more information on the opportunities in nursing and more recruitment would happen from abroad.
Green Party leader David Coon said governments have known for years about the impending shortages among nurses and home support workers who help seniors and should have acted quicker.He has repeatedly brought up the issue of wait times at the Chalmers ER, which is in his riding of Fredericton South.
“This government loves setting up committees and creating plans and strategies that it never implements,” Coon said. “What we need is action.”Last month, the Liberal government announced it would build 10 new nursing homes over the next five years, adding 600 new beds to the mix.