AMHERST – Nurses at the Cumberland Regional Health Care Centre got their audience with Health Minister Randy Delorey, and they delivered a strong message.
The minister met with the nurses at the hospital on April 27 to follow-up on a letter they sent him regarding working conditions at the 15-year-old hospital near Amherst.
“I am so proud of the nurses. They were very professional in articulating their concerns about staffing and acuity levels to the minister,” Nova Scotia Nurses Union president Janet Hazelton said. “They also talked to the minister about their concerns surrounding not only their safety, but the safety of the patients.”
Several weeks ago, more than 30 nurses signed a letter asking the minister to improve working conditions at the hospital. The group said it has been asking management to fix things at the hospital for at least two years, but they continue to be understaffed and left to work in unsafe conditions.
Hazelton said the minister listened attentively and took notes, but refused to make any commitments to improve conditions. The minister did say he would be following up with the Nova Scotia Heath Authority to get some answers and respond back to the union.
The nurses union president is hopeful the NSHA will finally get the message that the nursing staff there has little patience remaining when it comes to waiting for a plan it’s told is coming.
Hazleton said the nurses did meet with hospital management following the meeting with the minister and were told again that a plan to alleviate their concerns is being worked on. However, she added, no timeline was given for when that plan will be shared.
“We’ve heard that so many times, and we told that to the minister. They’ve been working on a plan for two-and-a-half years and someone has to show us the plan and let us comment on it. Then, make it happen,” she said.
If there are no answers soon, the nurses will lose a lot of faith and trust in the minister because it takes a lot for them to speak up about problems at the hospital. She said it takes a lot of courage to confront the minister, but they did it.
“He needs to reach out and find solutions because it was clear from everyone in the room that this unit needs help,” she said. “The message I got from the nurses that were there was that he seemed genuinely engaged and interested. They felt he is going to make an effort to help him.
“He cannot walk away from that meeting and not make sure something happens.”
She feels the minister is going to be asking the health authority for information and it better be forthcoming.
The issue at the hospital is the workload facing nursing staff. The nurse to patient ratio is climbing and as Nova Scotians age more people are coming to the hospital for help and they are more acutely ill.
In an email to the Amherst News, Delorey said he appreciated the opportunity to meet with the nurses.
“I appreciated the nurses’ union reaching out and initiating the meeting on behalf of their members,” Delorey said. “The nurses spoke freely and openly to me, and their concerns have been heard.”
The minister said he’s confident his department, the union and management at the hospital can work together to find a solution.
Cumberland North MLA Elizabeth Smith-McCrossin said she’s pleased the minister met with the nurses. Meeting is one thing, she said, doing something about it is quite another.
“The minister of health has now heard directly from our local nurses. I want him to immediately address their working conditions and chronic understaffing concerns,” Smith-McCrossin said. “He must make the changes needed to provide a safe work environment for nurses and patients.”
The MLA said nurses have been asking management to make improvements for two years without result. She feels they deserve urgent attention to their concerns.