TRURO - Nova Scotia's nurses can now practice their jobs more safely thanks to a new labour contract agreement with the provincial government, a union leader says.
"We just signed a new collective agreement with our employers last Friday and in it is new language around safe staffing," said Janet Hazelton, president of the Nova Scotia Nurses' Union, during a Safe Staffing Summit held in Truro on Monday.
"So we're here today to educate our nurses on the language and how to use the new forms to complete the process."
About 200 registered nurses, licensed practical nurses and nurse practitioners from across the province attended the event.
Hazelton said the new agreement adds language to the contract that addresses staffing shortages and optimizes care in a system with chronic challenges.
She said the agreement, which has been used successfully in other provinces, relies on nurses' professional knowledge and expertise to identify unsafe work environments.
This is the first time the process has been used by a nurse union in Atlantic Canada, Hazelton added.
"There's a process in place now so that a nurse can fill out forms if there is not adequate staff, if there's not enough equipment, whatever the issue is that makes the nurse feel she can't practice safely," she said. "And that process goes right up to an independent committee that can make recommendations to the employer, based on the nurse's concerns."
Nurses in Nova Scotia are eligible for retirement at age 55 and with the average age for the profession in this province now at 50, some 800 nurses will be able to take early retirement by that point.
And given the shortage for university nursing seats across the country, hospitals and other such institutions could find themselves with real staffing shortfalls not too far in the future, which is one reason why the contract change has been made, Hazleton said.
But the contract language around safe staffing also applies to other sectors such as support staff, clerical people and even to whether better equipment is needed.
And while it is a big improvement over previous contract language, Hazelton said, there is still room to make it better.
"We believe it is certainly a start," she said. "Is it utopia? Not yet."