MONTREAL (Reuters) – Quebec nurses and orderlies are pleading for time off this summer, ahead of a possible second wave of coronavirus infections in the fall, as Canada’s hardest-hit province from the virus wrestles with a staffing crunch in its health sector.
Bone-weary staff have been waving placards with messages like “dead tired,” at protests this week, as Quebec Premier Francois Legault says the province is short 10,000 healthcare workers. More protesters are expected to rally on Friday.
Quebec, which has more than 60% of Canada’s more than 6,800 deaths from the virus, has asked Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to extend a spring military deployment to September to bolster staffing at its hard-hit nursing homes where most COVID deaths have taken place.
Like the United States and Europe, Canada is struggling to curb the spread of the coronavirus and the respiratory illness COVID-19 in seniors’ residences.
Legault says Quebec is now trying to recruit 10,000 orderlies through a three-month paid training plan.
Some nurses who treat COVID patients have seen their requests for vacation time delayed since the start of the pandemic, said Johanne Riendeau, a union local president representing nurses in the west of Montreal.
“The nurses are burned out,” Riendeau said by phone. “We are not machines. We need rest.”
Around 5,000 healthcare workers are infected with the virus.
Quebec Health Minister Danielle McCann has said the province aims to give healthcare workers two weeks of vacation ahead of a possible second wave of coronavirus infections in the fall.
“It’s going to be very important that these people are well rested to return in the fall, to help us,” she said on Wednesday.
But not all nurses and orderlies in Montreal have received clear answers to their vacation requests yet, union representatives said.
“We don’t believe McCann anymore,” Riendeau said.
About 13% of Quebec’s 2,600 seniors’ homes and long-term care facilities have at least one case of coronavirus.
Trudeau told reporters on Thursday that his government would continue discussions with Quebec over support for nursing homes, but stressed the deployment “is not a long-term solution.”
Reporting By Allison Lampert and Sebastien Malo in Montreal; Additional reporting by Kelsey Johnson in Ottawa; Editing by Denny Thomas and Andrea Ricci