The quality of nursing is not in strength, but in numbers

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Jobs in New Brunswick are noticeably scarce these days. Over 1,000 people have moved out of the province in the last year. For our health care system, the situation couldn’t look bleaker.

Marilyn Quinn, president of the New Brunswick Nurses Union (NBNU), acknowledges that this is a challenging time. “During a time when the population is declining, the loss of our skilled registered nurses is of great concern,” says Quinn “Especially since a large portion of our membership will be retiring in the next five years.”

Layoffs in the health care profession have been happening over the past two years.

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While most were able to find other positions within their facility or zone, the prospect of jobs being cut remains a possibility.

According to Quinn the union has been trying to stress the importance of a long-term health care plan. “The Nursing Resource Collaborative Committee is looking to see what opportunities exist that will encourage new graduates to stay in the province,” says Quinn, “as we know 2,039 registered nurses in New Brunswick are over the age of 55. “We could be doing more as a province,” she says.

The state of health care is problematic when considering the amount of graduating nurses. Pamela Wiebe, administrative assistant at UNB Fredericton reports that 41 students at the Fredericton campus will graduate in December. “In the four-year program, our anticipated grads for May 2014 consist of 91 from Fredericton, 14 from Bathurst and 36 in Moncton.”

There have been steps taken to ensure that nursing students will be hired in New Brunswick. Quinn says the Horizon Health Network selected 100 of 184 graduates who applied this year. “The majority were hired in casual temporary or part-time positions,” she says. “The loss of our skilled registered nurses is of great concern, especially since a large portion of our membership will be retiring in the next five years.”

In 2012, the NBNU made three recommendations for restructuring health care for a new health plan. These focused on collaborative primary care homes, expansion of home care and providing universal prescription drug coverage. However, none of these were included in the final product.

With the rollout of the new health plan in September, there was no mention of a primary care strategy nor a blueprint for resources available for the delivery of care to seniors in their homes. This came as a surprise to the union as it is an important issue in the province.

“We have recently questioned why the new plan failed to mention a health human resource strategy to ensure there will be enough health professionals to provide the care that the plan lays out.” says Quinn.

It is important to note, that things are not entirely grim for nurses in New Brunswick. The NBNU has specific language in its agreement that provides job security.

“During layoffs, the first priority is always to work with those registered nurses affected and ensure that the layoff protections under article 34 of the Part III agreement have been followed,” she says. “Our goal is always to ensure the employer finds alternate work for all affected registered nurses.”

Quinn hopes that nursing graduates will be able to stay and work in New Brunswick. Several nurses have been taking casual shifts due to sick leaves, maternity leaves, long-term disability and their positions need to be covered. “While permanent jobs may not exist right away, we believe the future will look better for new graduates.”