Two decades into a career she once loved, Toronto emergency room nurse Nancy Halupa says she is almost ready to throw in the towel.
“I don’t think I can do a fourth wave with this kind of staffing,” she told Global News.
“It’s not good for my mental health. It’s not good for my family. It’s not a workable situation anymore.”
Across the country, hospital staff are leaving their jobs at an alarming rate. And that’s prompting experts and health-care workers to call for more action from the federal government.
Nearly one in five job vacancies in Canada is in health care and social assistance, according to Statistics Canada. In early 2021, those sectors experienced the largest losses year-over-year compared to all other sectors.
Weekly overtime increased, too, 78 per cent on average from May 2019 to May 2020, the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions (CFNU) said, using data from StatCan.
According to the CFNU, that number jumps to 137 per cent in Quebec and Ontario.
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In Canada’s largest province of Ontario alone, the president of the CFNU told Global News it estimates there are more than 16,000 vacancies.
For those, like Halupa, who haven’t quit, the workload, she said, is crushing.
“Things need to change. It is getting dangerous out there,” said Halupa.
“I’ve never gone to work with this much anxiety or fear on what I’m going to see or what we’re going to have to deal with or how short-staffed we are.”
Halupa said not all the blame can be put on COVID-19. Recruitment, retirements and pay, she said, have also played a role in pushing people out of the profession.
At a recent rally in Toronto, medical professionals condemned the Doug Ford government for Bill 124.
The legislation was introduced pre-pandemic in 2019 and caps certain public sector wages, such as nurses’, at a one per cent annual increase.
For registered nurse Leah Waxman, that meant 47 cents more per hour for her last raise, a number that doesn’t make her want to stay in her role.
“Something acute needs to happen to make a drastic change and prevent our health-care (system) from collapsing … because it is,” she said.
Richard Mullin, a spokesperson for Ontario’s Treasury Board, told Global News in a statement that “it is inaccurate to suggest that Bill 124 caps wages at one per cent annually.”
“Ontario’s public sector employees will still be able to receive salary increases for seniority, performance, or increased qualifications as they do currently,” Mullin explained.
Labour expert Rafael Gomez called the legislation “suppressive.”
“Health-care spending now is the largest ticket item of any government. So I understand the macro priorities,” said Gomez, the director of the Centre for Industrial Relations and Human Resources. “But health-care is a micro event. When you’re in a hospital and you need help and you want a nurse to be there, that’s affecting you personally. And if there are policies that are hampering that, I think the government is sort of short-sighted.”
A Canadian problem
In July, Alberta Health Services confirmed it had only about 18 treatment beds available at one of its busiest hospitals, the Royal Alexandra, “due to short-term staffing coverage issues.”
Alberta Opposition NDP Leader Rachel Notley said bed closures due to staffing pressures aren’t isolated.
“This has led to bed closures and cancelled surgeries and repeated emergency room closures in the communities of Edson, St. Paul, Boyle, Elk Point, Galahad, Westlock, Fairview, Rocky Mountain House, Cold Lake, Lac La Biche, High Prairie, Slave Lake, Wainwright, Rimbey and Lacombe.”
Since then, the United Nurses of Alberta has said the province has been hiring contract nurses to address severe staffing shortages in hospitals there.
Meantime, in Kamloops, B.C., the shortages have become deadly. There, a 70-year-old woman died in an emergency department waiting room while seeking treatment last week.
“The government has let the situation at the hospital’s emergency department become dire — we’ve heard reports that some shifts have only three nurses trying to keep up with a workload usually handled by 13 people,” Kamloops-South Thompson MLA Todd Stone said Monday.
Cheryl Cusack of the Association of Regulated Nurses of Manitoba said there, nurses are struggling with depression and other mental health issues, including trauma, as a result of their efforts to save coronavirus patients.
And in Nova Scotia, what was once a seven per cent vacancy rate has climbed to 20 per cent, according to the Nova Scotia Health Authority.
“We’ve had 34 people leave the Halifax Infirmary emergency department in the past two-and-a-half to three months,” said the province’s General Employees’ Union president Jason MacLean. “Six of them didn’t even have other jobs. So what we need to do is find out why they are leaving, which I believe we are getting to, but also people need to be incentivized to stay there.”
Experts call for federal leadership
The president of CFNU, Linda Silas, told Global News Ottawa needs to “show leadership.”
“We need commitment from the federal government to create a health-care workforce agency,” Silas said. “The federal government will have an agency to look at how many nurses we need in five years. What do we need to do today to keep what we have and plan better with the provinces and territories?”
When asked if it would consider any of these measures, in an email to Global News, Health Canada spokesperson Mark Johnson wrote: “the responsibility for matters related to the administration and delivery of health services, including health workforce planning and management, falls within provinces and territories jurisdiction.”
It’s not the first time health-care experts have asked for the Canadian government to create national standards or regulations for nurses.
Over the last year, seniors’ advocates have been pleading for national standards in nursing homes. And while Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau made the promise last fall, his government still hasn’t put anything into action.
Colleen MacPherson, a critical care nurse in Toronto, is upset the provinces and the federal government haven’t made significant steps to fix the growing problem.
“Look what happened in long-term care. The nurses were working without protection. They were understaffed,” she told Global News.
And, she said, hospitals aren’t immune.
“People are at risk. We have no staff. Nurses didn’t get any vacation this year. Wages are stuck.”
Now, MacPherson and others worry an election has created more uncertainty and set back any plans for a solution.
During the 2021 federal election campaign, Trudeau has promised that a re-elected Liberal government will give $10 billion to help provinces clear their backlogs and pandemic wait-lists. It plans to help provinces hire 7,500 nurses, nurse practitioners and family doctors.
The Conservatives, meanwhile, have vowed to meet with premiers to make a new health-care agreement and boost the annual growth rate of the Canada Health Transfer by six per cent if elected. That plan would add nearly $60 billion to the system over a decade.
Erin O’Toole did fall short of promising to hire more front-line workers.
Jagmeet Singh and the NDP announced $250 million to address the health-care worker shortage, a fund to help hire 2,000 nurses across the country.
The Green Party, meanwhile, promised to develop national health-care guidelines.
Toronto emergency room doctor Chris Keefer said in the meantime, patients are the ones really suffering.
“If nurses aren’t available to get orders done, to get procedures done and treatments done, patients wait and wait and wait. And people are already quite frustrated with that. But it’s getting worse and worse and it’s getting critical,” Keefer said.
“It’s impossible to run a department shorthanded,” she said, worried the time to save the health-care system is running out.
“There’s not a lot of veteran nurses left,” she said. “if you want to keep health care somewhat safe, then you need to retain the people you have. You need the veterans. You need to retain who you have now.”
© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
China condemns U.S., Canada for sending warships through Taiwan Strait
The Chinese military on Sunday condemned the United States and Canada for each sending a warship through the Taiwan Strait last week, saying they were threatening peace and stability in the region.
China claims democratically-ruled Taiwan as its own territory, and has mounted repeated air force missions into Taiwan’s air defence identification zone (ADIZ) over the past year, provoking anger in Taipei.
China sent around 150 aircraft into the zone over a four-day period beginning on Oct. 1 in a further heightening of tension between Beijing and Taipei that has sparked concern internationally.
The U.S. military said the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Dewey sailed through the narrow waterway that separates Taiwan from its giant neighbour China along with the Canadian frigate HMCS Winnipeg on Thursday and Friday.
“Dewey’s and Winnipeg’s transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the commitment of the United States and our allies and partners to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” it added.
China’s People’s Liberation Army’s Eastern Theatre Command said its forces monitored the ships and “stood guard” throughout their passage.
“The United States and Canada colluded to provoke and stir up trouble… seriously jeopardising peace and stability of the Taiwan Strait,” it said.
“Taiwan is part of Chinese territory. Theatre forces always maintain a high level of alert and resolutely counter all threats and provocations.”
U.S. Navy Ships have been transiting the strait roughly monthly, to the anger of Beijing, which has accused Washington of stoking regional tensions. U.S. allies occasionally also send ships through the strait, including Britain https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/british-frigate-sails-through-taiwan-strait-2021-09-27last month.
While tensions across the Taiwan Strait have risen, there has been no shooting and Chinese aircraft have not entered Taiwanese air space, concentrating their activity in the southwestern part of the ADIZ.
While including Taiwanese territorial air space, the ADIZ encompasses a broader area that Taiwan monitors and patrols that acts to give it more time to respond to any threats.
Taiwan’s defence ministry said on Sunday that three Chinese aircraft – two J-16 fighters and an anti-submarine aircraft – flew into the ADIZ again.
(Reporting by Ryan Woo in Beijing, Ben Blanchard in Taipei and Idrees Ali in Washington; Editing by Pravin Char and John
No end in sight to volcanic eruption on Spain’s La Palma – Canaries president
There’s no immediate end in sight to the volcanic eruption that has caused chaos on the Spanish isle of La Palma since it began about a month ago, the president of the Canary Islands said on Sunday.
There were 42 seismic movements on the island on Sunday, the largest of which measured 4.3, according to the Spanish National Geographical Institute.
“There are no signs that an end of the eruption is imminent even though this is the greatest desire of everyone,” President Angel Víctor Torres said at a Socialist party conference in Valencia, citing the view of scientists.
Streams of lava have laid waste to more than 742 hectares (1833 acres) of land and destroyed almost 2,000 buildings on La Palma since the volcano started erupting on Sept. 19.
About 7,000 people have been evacuated from their homes on the island, which has about 83,000 inhabitants and forms part of the Canary Islands archipelago off northwestern Africa.
Airline Binter said it had cancelled all its flights to La Palma on Sunday because of ash from the volcano.
“Due to the current situation of the ash cloud, operations with La Palma will continue to be paralyzed throughout today. We continue to evaluate the situation,” the airline tweeted.
Almost half – 22 out of 38 – of all flights to the island on Sunday have been cancelled, state airport operator Aena said, but the airport there remains open.
(Reporting by Graham Keeley; Editing by Pravin Char)
Son of ex-Somali political aide held over UK lawmaker stabbing
Ali Harbi Ali, the son of an ex-media adviser to a former prime minister of Somalia, has been arrested by British police under anti-terrorism laws following the killing of lawmaker David Amess, a source close to the investigation and British media said.
Amess, 69, from Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party, was knifed repeatedly as he met constituency voters in a church on Friday in Leigh-on-Sea, east of London.
The killing took place five years after the murder of Jo Cox, a lawmaker from the opposition Labour Party, and has prompted a review of politicians’ security.
Police said they had arrested a 25-year-old British man at the scene on suspicion of murder and have said it is believed he acted alone. They have not named the suspect but used additional powers under anti-terrorism laws to detain him until Oct. 22.
A British source close to the investigation named Ali Harbi Ali, a British citizen, as the detained suspect.
Harbi Ali Kullane, the father of Ali Harbi Ali, told The Sunday Times that his son had been arrested in connection with the murder.
“At this particular moment we are going through (an)unprecedented and horrific situation,” Harbi Ali Kullane, a former adviser to Hassan Ali Khaire, a former Somali prime minister, told Reuters in an email when asked about this.
“Due to the ongoing early investigation I am obliged and commanded not to talk about it,” said Harbi Ali Kullane, who is a former director of the Somali government’s media and communication department.
British police were on Sunday searching an address in north London linked to Ali Harbi Ali, Reuters reporters said.
Interior Minister Priti Patel said on Sunday Britain is considering a number of options to boost the security of lawmakers.
(Reporting by Nazanine Moshiri in Nairobi and Guy Faulconbridge in LondonAdditional reporting by Costas PitasEditing by Alex Richardson and Frances Kerry)
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