‘Overworked’ and ‘overwhelmed’ nurses in Quebec make jump from public to private

“We’ve been seeing COVID patients dying every day,” says ICU nurse Jennifer Philogène, on the overwhelming nature of her job. She is among thousands of Quebec nurses who are quitting public healthcare amid the pandemic. Alyssia Rubertucci reports.

By Alyssia Rubertucci and Kelsey Patterson

MONTREAL (CityNews) – Some Quebec nurses are making the leap to the private sector because of poor working conditions in the province’s public health-care system.

The nurses say harmful working conditions existed prior to COVID-19, but they have only been exacerbated by a pandemic that is putting immense strain on hospital resources.

“Nurses are overworked,” said ICU nurse Jennifer Philogene. “I am overworked mentally especially. We have been seeing COVID patients dying every day. At some point, this is very overwhelming.”

Philogene says she’s leaving the public sector in the next few days.

“I knew at some point, if I had to sacrifice my mental health, I knew I would have to stop,” she said.

This comes as a recent La Presse report found 4,000 Quebec nurses have quit during the pandemic – an increase of 43 per cent from the year before.

Philogene says she’s going to work on the private side for a more stable and sustainable schedule.

“We have to do mandatory overtime,” said Philogene. “This is very overwhelming. Doing 16-hour shifts is not easy. Last year, I had been doing overtime almost every weekend. At some point, I have to take care of myself.

“It’s not about only money. It’s about how we are treated on the floor.”

Registered nurse Esther Carielus made the same move just before the pandemic hit. She went from working in a long-term care to an agency.

“I wasn’t feeling good to do my job when I was in CHSLD (long-term care) with the other nurses because the environment was really stressful,” said Carielus.

Luc Mathieu, the president of the Quebec Order of Nurses, says something needs to be done to create a better work environment for the province’s health-care professionals.

“You have to have sufficient ratios,” he said. “You have to abolish mandatory overtime as much as possible and better distribution of workload. To create a healthy work environment – before or after the pandemic.”

As far as Philogene is concerned, the solution in retaining nurses begins with understanding the day-to-day issues.

“If you want to take better care of us, listen to us,” she said. “Come on the floor, see what is happening. You need to see what’s safe and what’s not safe. Because if you do not understand what is happening on the floor, how will you put new measures and rules if you don’t understand what’s going on?”

Quebec Premier Francois Legault said this week he wants to make things easier on nurses. The government is also working at making school and training for nurses quicker.

Mathieu does not think that’s the right solution to the province’s problem.

“It’s not a good idea. Not at all,” he said. “It takes many years to train a nurse.”

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