TRURO, N.S. – Janet Hazelton wants to see nurses protected in the same manner as transit workers and police officers.
“In Canada, there’s a federal law – aggravated criminal assault,” said the Nova Scotia Nurses’ Union president. “It pertains to transit workers and police officers, so if you strike a transit worker or a police officer it’s a different criminal charge. I talked to the prime minister about that, to say that we need to consider it for health care workers.”
A number of issues were raised during a question-and-answer session at the nurses’ union annual general meeting at Truro’s Best Western Glengarry. Among them were paying for plasma, staffing levels and workplace violence. Hazelton said violence is a problem that seems to be getting worse across the country, and changes in the law are needed.
“I’m not talking about a patient that has Alzheimers who strikes; I’m talking about a father or a son, a visitor,” she said. “They know what they’re doing and they’re aware of their actions and they hit nurses and others. They need to take responsibility for that and there need to be more serious charges than just assault. It has decreased the incidents with transit drivers and police officers so one would think it would work just as effectively when you strike a nurse or another health-care worker.”
A video about violence toward nurses was shown to delegates Tuesday morning.
Nova Scotia Minister of Health and Wellness Randy Delorey was on hand and agreed steps are needed.
“This is a societal challenge,” he said. “It’s not just the nurses in the workforce. We know disproportionately nurses are women, as are teachers, and these are two professions where it’s coming to the fore now. It’s not saying that issue is just presenting itself; as a society, we’re opening our eyes to it, and it’s not acceptable.”
He said the government has been working with the nurses’ union, as well as others, on action to combat the problem.
Delorey was also asked if he would commit to introduce legislation to prevent paid plasma clinics in the province. He said while he wouldn’t do that, he would commit to further study on the issue.
The shortage of nurses at both hospitals and long-term care facilities remains a hot-button issue. Delorey said the provincial government is looking at options on long-term care but needs to consider cost and keep finances under control. He said the fourth largest expense the province has is interest payments on debt incurred because in previous years, the government paid for services with money it didn’t have.
“We all understand debt but were seeing that it’s on the backs of our seniors,” Hazelton said.
Following the session, Hazelton said she was pleasantly surprised when Delorey agreed to go to Cumberland County with her Friday, to speak with nurses who have complaints about staffing.
“It’ll be the first time that has happened, where the minister has gone with me to talk about nurses and their problems,” she said.
Delorey said he feels it’s important to get out and hear from “the front lines.”
“The president and I do have a fairly open relationship,” he noted. “She’s certainly not shy in letting me know when there’s an issue or concern her members have.”
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Janet Hazelton is back for eighth term
On Tuesday, Janet Hazelton was acclaimed to the position of president of the board of directors of the Nova Scotia Nurses’ Union, once again.
This is the 8th consecutive term for Hazelton, a registered nurse who had held the position since 2002.
The Bible Hill resident, who is now the longest standing president of the union, will hold the position for another two-year term.
“There’s more work to be done,” she said. “We have an upcoming round of negotiations, our first nursing bargaining council since the DHA amalgamation. Workplace violence is still prevalent, our emergency departments are bursting at the seams, privatization is a pervasive threat, staffing in long-term care is far too low, and more must be done in the community to optimize care for those dealing with illness in their homes.”
Hazelton said the membership is prepared to continue advocacy work and deep discussions required to resolve issues that plague nurses and the health care system.