I am the daughter of a nurse. For years my mom worked as a trauma centre nurse on the night shift at the Montreal General Hospital. Before that, I remember her working as a float nurse (a bit like a substitute teacher, a nurse who is dispatched wherever they are needed) for the Montreal General and for the Julius Richardson, now the Richardson Centre in Montreal.
For many, many years our mom worked Christmas Eve or New Year’s. I don’t recall a “normal” Christmas. Because she worked nights she slept during the day until the afternoon and Christmas Eve or Christmas was usually affected by this. So was New Year’s.
My mom was the main breadwinner for our family of five and the reason she took these shifts even when she had seniority was because other nurses weren’t available and patients needed nurses at the hospital. Her big heart would not allow the hospital to be without staff. As well, our family needed the money. Nurses were paid overtime for any work they did over Christmas and New Year’s.
Because she worked over Christmas most years she was not with us at church for Christmas Eve. She always cooked a full Christmas dinner even while exhausted. I remember her being near tears at Christmas. My sisters and I often woke her when we made too much noise on Christmas Day. and she never slept enough. Working five nights on, two nights off, or whatever that schedule was, plus being called in at the last minute to fill in when other nurses cancelled shifts, can really affect a person’s well-being. On our kitchen calendar, the month of December was covered with blue Xs noting the nights she had to work. Nurses often work 12-hour shifts and then they have to do paperwork or make reports at the end of their shifts so a 12-hour shift can often be longer than 12 hours. I don’t know much about what her shifts were like. I just know they were often incredibly stressful and the breaks she had during those shifts were never long enough.
Why am I mentioning this? A news report yesterday (Friday) said the West Island health authority (CIUSSS de l’Ouest de l’Île de Montréal) had issued a memo ordering nurses, technicians, managers and other staff who work in the West Island health region that any vacation time scheduled over the holidays would be cancelled, right up until Jan. 30. The reason? Mounting COVID-19 cases and a staff shortage meant the vacations wouldn’t be possible and the authority needed to deploy staff to high-risk sectors even while resources were being cut.
Late yesterday the authority backtracked and reversed its stance. Now instead of automatically cancelling their vacations staff are being asked to volunteer to cancel their vacations or to work overtime shifts.
Yes, there’s a nursing shortage and we’re in a pandemic and with 7,435 deaths, 871 hospitalizations and 160, 023 confirmed cases province-wide it’s an all-hands-on-deck situation. Even with cases mounting during this second wave of COVID-19 in Quebec, I don’t think it’s fair to pressure nurses or any healthcare staff to give up vacations they very much need. There must be a way to find other staff to replace them. There is no point in causing more burnout and suffering during this terrible pandemic. Surely there are other nurses, perhaps even foreign-trained nurses and doctors and other healthcare professionals, army staff, who could be recruited to work over the holidays.
I implore the Quebec government to listen to the voices of nurses and other healthcare staff who have done so much for everyone during this pandemic. They deserve a rest and time off. Their families and loved ones deserve to remember them as relaxed and happy during the holidays, not fearing for their lives.