Nurses’ working conditions have only gotten worse in recent months. The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a light on a global nursing shortage, which is being felt acutely here in Prince Edward Island, according to PEI Nurses Union President Mona O’Shea in a recent CBC article.
While the provincial government has been working to recruit more nurses to the Island, current efforts have been hampered by the pandemic. Meanwhile, many student nurses who ought to be moving into an RN role by now are unable to take their exams until the end of August because of COVID-19. A robust onboarding process would normally provide for mentoring of junior nurses, but since nurses are increasingly working short-staffed, mentoring is falling by the wayside.
“We have huge vacancies here on P.E.I.,” O’Shea told CBC. “We were at an all-time high back in January, of vacant positions, of 160.”
After months of working short-staffed and under stressful conditions, some nurses are also finding it harder to get leave approved, with some reporting that their summer vacations have been cancelled. PEINU is investigating these instances and plans to file grievances if previously approved vacation time isn’t reinstated.
“There has to be a little more reassurance that you will get your time off.”
A recent report published by the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions revealed that 83.4% of nurses in Canada felt that there was not enough staff to meet the needs of patients. These untenable working conditions are not only having repercussions on patient care, but also on nurses’ mental health. The study, which was conducted pre-COVID-19, showed alarming rates of posttraumatic stress disorder, clinical burnout, generalized anxiety disorder, depression and panic disorder.
With the additional stress of battling a global pandemic, nurses are facing even greater psychological pressures.
“A cycle of excessive overtime and unsustainable workloads, with widespread verbal and physical violence, have led to a decline in nurses’ health, including nurses’ mental health,” said CFNU President Linda Silas. “With a growing nurse shortage evident in many parts of the country, and further nurse shortages on the horizon, this situation is likely to worsen.”
Among the top sources of extreme stress identified by nurses were short staffing, unpredictable staffing and scheduling, lack of support from the nursing administrators, and having to deal with violent and abusive patients.