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'It's dangerous staffing levels now': nurse raises alarm about ongoing shortage

Emergency rooms across the province have had to reduce hours because of low staffing levels, including in here in the region
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A former full-time nurse is raising the alarm about the ongoing nursing shortage in our healthcare system.

"It's dangerous staffing levels now," said Sonja Bernhard, a registered practical nurse at St. John's Healthcare Hamilton, while on the Mike Farwell Show on CityNews 570 on Tuesday.

She now works part-time. 

Across the province, emergency rooms have had to reduce hours because of low staffing levels, including in Waterloo Region.

"The ER's are getting backed up--seven, eight, 10 hours before you see a doctor, before you get any services that you need. When you eventually get the services that you need, your nurse has probably 10 other patients, eight other patients that they're all trying to keep they're attention on," she said. 

"And that's if everything goes smoothly during your shift."

Bernhard said recently, she worked on a surgical unit with 35 patients and four nurses.

"When you show up and there are shortages, what are our options? We can't just leave. We can't say we're not going to work. They're not options for nurses."

She said she doesn't know any nurses who aren't running short-staffed everyday.

"Or, that is coming into work and getting pulled to another unit where they potentially, and in most cases, have no cross training."

Bernhard said nurses potentially jeopardize their licences because of how many patients they need to look after.

She describes the current situation as "beyond stressful and chaotic" and it's caused nurses to leave the field, reduce their hours, and look for other options. 

"I think that nurses now are getting really fed up. They're getting really tired of the working conditions. They're getting really tired of the government. They're getting tired of the restrictions," she said.

But, fixing the situation is complicated.

Bernhard said mandating staffing ratios needs to be a priority.

"I think that the hospitals and the nurses need to get on the same side. We need to direct our focus towards the government," she said.

Bernhard also suggested better wages to retain staff and encourage new nurses, along with improved benefits and more flexible scheduling.

"We have to have better working conditions against the assaults that take place. They have to be taken more seriously, instead of trying to brush them under the rug, or not encouraging a staff member to press charges," she said.

"We need to be better protected."

Berhnard said there's always been a power balance between nurses and the organizations they work for.

"When working conditions deteriorate and we're not given the autonomy and we're not sort of given the respect that our educated professions deserve, it creates a much fast burnout," she said. 

Bernhard wants to more being done to foster growth and development for the next generation of nurses.

"I give kudos to every healthcare worker out there right now, including the paramedics, PSW's, and nurses--everyone who can still go to work and give the empathy and the level of care that the patients need, regardless of the working conditions."

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