“When we got to work and we realized that we were missing staff, and that two of us would have to stay the night again, we decided we had to do something,” says Nicole. She is part of a team of third-floor nurses working the evening shift, that staged a three-hour sit-in over mandatory overtime at the Barrie Memorial Hospital (BMH) on January 26.
The protest, which saw the nurses refuse to work what has become a regularly imposed night shift, was the first of its kind to take place at the Ormstown-based hospital.
“The situation wasn’t getting better,” says Nicole of the mandatory overtime. In the week leading up to the protest, members of the evening nursing staff were required to cover 11 night shifts to compensate for staff shortages.
“We worry about when we will be stuck staying another eight hours, and if we will be able to drive home at the end of our shift,” says Nicole. “It is an ongoing cycle,” she laments, adding that 16-hour shifts take their toll and nurses are often required to return eight hours later for the start of their regular shift.
According to the Syndicat des professionnelles en soins de la Montérégie, the night shift should include five nurses and two nursing assistants. According to the union, there were only three nurses and three nursing assistants to cover the night shift on January 26.
In an interview with Le Devoir following the sit-in, union president Mélanie Gignac explains that “When a nurse is missing, we replace her with two nursing assistants.” But a nursing assistant is limited in her right to practice. “She cannot assess patients,” says Gignac, who suggests the employer is not giving enough weight to the “seriousness of the cases” in its assessments.
Jade St-Jean, the senior advisor for external communications for the Centre intégré de santé et de services sociaux de la Montérégie-Ouest (CISSSMO), says the night shift at the Barrie Memorial is particularly under pressure due to staff shortages. She says efforts on the part of management at the Barrie Memorial allowed for solutions to be found to fill the absences on the night shift because of the protest. “Employees from other units volunteered to work overtime in support of the unit’s team, and agency staff were called in to assist,” says St-Jean. The evening nurses returned to work around 7 p.m.
A second nurse, who has been working at the Barrie Memorial for 28 years, says the situation has been building for some time. “It is harder to get people to work at the BMH as we are a rural hospital and farther away for a lot of people,” she says, noting that in the past, schedules were well-arranged and staff shortages were rare.
“The scheduling is not as personalized, and over the past year we have had serious shortages in all shifts but particularly the night shift,” she explains, suggesting the situation is causing additional strain for nurses who must prepare for the possibility of overtime at the start of every shift. “We are exhausted, and frankly hurt, that we are being so taken for granted.”
The nurses are also concerned for the safety of their patients, saying it can be difficult to provide adequate care under current conditions where staff are overworked and tired. The nurses suggest the CISSSMO should focus on providing more flexible scheduling, including full- and part-time positions, as well as better working conditions, to encourage nurses and nursing assistants to come to the BMH and stay.
St-Jean cautions that while teams are currently working on finding solutions, “The situation will remain difficult for the next few days.” She says the CISSSMO appreciates the work being done by the teams on the ground “who are allowing us to maintain health care services to the population.”