For all their dedication, too much is too much. Some 800 nurses have resigned since the start of the pandemic on the island of Montreal alone, according to figures compiled by The duty. As a possible second wave looms, many more who have held up are wondering about their future.
“When I resigned, it was an extreme relief, and it still is today,” says Marilou Richer-LeBlanc. After spending more than seven years in the emergency room at Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital, the 32-year-old nurse gave it all up, washed out by the past few months.
It must be said that the pandemic was added to a particularly trying winter with the seasonal flu, testifies the one which multiplied the compulsory overtime (OST). She has more than once worked 16 hours in a row.
If all departures are not necessarily linked to the health crisis, government management has undoubtedly contributed to this important “wave of resignations”, insists Nancy Bédard, president of the Interprofessional Health Federation of Quebec (FIQ).
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For many, the ministerial decree of March 21 was the straw that broke the camel’s back. It allowed managers to cancel nurses’ leave, vacations and bypass collective agreements.
At the Maisonneuve-Rosemont hospital emergency room, for example, “everyone working part-time has been increased to full-time,” notes Mr.me Richer-LeBlanc. Vacation and statutory holidays have been canceled ”. Initially, no one balked, aware of the exceptional nature of this pandemic and ready to roll up their sleeves. But quickly, her colleagues and she became disillusioned.
“We ended up with a lot of staff and few patients,” explains the nurse, recalling that hospitals have been relatively spared from COVID-19, unlike CHSLDs. But the workload has not diminished. Above all, the decree made up for the dire shortage of manpower that existed before the crisis, she said.
The difficult working conditions during a pandemic also prompted Mélanie Paquette to resign in July. After a “difficult” year marked by two work stoppages, she made the “heartbreaking” decision to leave the emergency room at Pierre-Boucher Hospital in Longueuil. She had worked there for five years.
“I kept throwing up on my last night of work, I was so stressed. Still, I have 20 years of experience in my body. “The obligations of the ministerial decree were pushing her to exhaustion, adds the one who has to take care of her father with Alzheimer’s disease.
In Maisonneuve-Rosemont, Marilou is not the only one to have left the ship. Frédéric Guérette made the same decision last April. With two young children at home due to school closures, and a joint nursing assistant in the same hospital, the 44-year-old nurse – who has accumulated 10 years of service – could not be held back at work any longer.
During his seven days to two weeks before the crisis, TSO was already a habit in this overflowing emergency, he says. “For a year or two, it was hell for me. “
The ministerial decree of March 21 is currently still in force. However, on July 21, Quebec asked the bosses of public establishments and those of private establishments under agreement to reassess – with the help of the unions – whether certain measures could end.
However, according to Nancy Bédard of the FIQ, changes are still pending. “On the ground, we are still trying to manage the shortage of caregivers that existed before COVID-19”, adds the one who intends to meet with the Ministry of Health on this subject next week.
For a year or two it was hell for me
An opinion supported by Marilou Richer LeBlanc. “I have a colleague who told me yesterday that nothing has changed since I left,” she says. There is still TSO, people are still at their end. They were entitled to a vacation, but that little candy wasn’t enough with everything that happened. They died of fatigue. “
For Nancy Bédard, one thing is clear: this decree that her union is contesting in court and which “opens the door to abuse” must disappear. “The government’s approach to ministerial orders needs to change for the second wave. These are resignations, but also sick leave which increases “, exposes the one who admits” very worried “for the continuation. “The network is held together with pieces of string. “
I have a colleague who told me yesterday that nothing has changed since I left
Although the first wave mainly affected Montreal and its surroundings, the turbulence it caused was distressing elsewhere in Quebec. “The only thing that keeps me here are the patients,” confides a nursing assistant in a CHSLD in Chicoutimi, on condition of anonymity to avoid reprisals from her employer.
She is now considering a career change, drawn to studying languages at university. A 180 ° turn. “I don’t want to be treated like this for another ten years of my life. “
Since March, the woman has put in her share of the effort, increasing her full-time availability on her own. But contrary to what she hoped, the summer offers her no respite. “We are not able to replace an employee who has gone on vacation. So we take turns doing TSOs. We hit four o’clock. “
A situation that particularly worries the president of the FIQ: “Losing one in the region is the equivalent of losing 15 in Montreal. She plans to monitor the situation closely, assuming a second wave of COVID-19. “The condition of the troops worries me greatly. We will not be able to leave all activities open, I am sure. “