Hundreds of Quebec’s nurses quit their jobs in first 6 months of the pandemic



a baby sleeping in a bed: A nurse tends to a patient suspected of having COVID-19 in the intensive care unit at North York General Hospital in Toronto in May.


© Evan Mitsui/CBC
A nurse tends to a patient suspected of having COVID-19 in the intensive care unit at North York General Hospital in Toronto in May.

As Quebec braces for a second wave of COVID-19 cases, the province’s health-care system has lost hundreds of nurses who have quit the profession in the past six months.

A Radio-Canada analysis has found that more than 1,700 nurses working for 13 of the province’s regional health boards left their jobs between mid-March and August. That’s compared to around 1,300 during the same period in 2019. 

At least 11 of those establishments saw more nurses leave their jobs compared to the same period last year. 

The CISSS Laval saw a 52-per-cent increase in nurses who left their jobs. For the CIUSSS Ouest-de-l’Île-de-Montréal, that number is 17 per cent. At the CIUSSS Mauricie-et-Centre-du-Québec, 247 nurses left their jobs, an increase of 72 per cent.

Quebec Premier François Legault says he is aware there’s a problem.

“It takes three years to train nurses,” Legault said. He says the recruitment issues that existed before the pandemic are a persistent problem.

He pointed out that in the coming weeks, thousands of new patient attendants who were recruited and trained over the summer to work in long-term care homes will start their jobs. 

A toll on mental health

Monika Grzes left her job as a nurse in May after she started working in a long-term care facility — CHSLD Herron, where more than 50 patients died of COVID-19. 

Until March, she had spent her career working in schools. Grzes said she was not prepared for what she saw. 

“When I got home my children asked me, ‘What are you doing, why do you cry, mom?’ I told them, ‘Well, I had a difficult day,'” Grzes said.

“In those two months I saw 25 people, maybe 35 people, die.”

After 20 years as a nurse, Grzes quit the profession. 

She says she still loves nursing, but after her experience this spring, there’s no guarantee she’ll ever go back.

Work-family balance and improving nurse-patient ratios are among the topics being discussed in the government’s collective bargaining with health-care unions. 

Efforts to hire nurses continue

While the number of nurses leaving the profession has grown, the province’s regional health boards say they are working to make up for the departing staff.

At the CIUSSS du Nord-de-l’Île-de-Montréal, where there has been an increase in departures, hiring has also gone up. 

“We are working to upgrade part-time positions to full-time positions,” said spokesperson Émilie Jacob. “We are convinced that this will have very positive repercussions on the stability of the workforce, making it possible to strengthen our health-care teams and reduce travel between our various facilities.”

At the CIUSSS du Centre-Ouest-de-l’Île-de-Montréal, spokesperson Carl Thériault said the higher number of departures in 2020 is due to nurses who temporarily came in to lend a hand last spring. The CIUSSS also hired 470 auxiliary nurses, for a net gain of 280 employees.

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