Overworked Quebec health establishments forced to cancel staff vacations – Canada News


Several health authorities in Quebec are forced to cancel employee vacations as the province grapples with staff shortages and an increase in hospitalizations linked to COVID-19, and some workers fear it is the last straw .

After working overtime without much time off since the start of the pandemic, nurse Agathe Vézina said the latest measure looked like a slap in the face for healthcare workers.

Vézina, who works as a mental health nurse in Rouyn-Noranda, about 500 kilometers northwest of Montreal, is currently on vacation and does not yet know if she will be affected by the restrictions. But she is worried as she has reserved her free time based on the availability of childcare services for her 17-month-old son.

“What am I supposed to do with my son if I am asked to return to work tomorrow instead of next Sunday,” she asked. She said she worked hard for her spare time, “and they want to cut them off. Enough is enough.”

Quebec’s health ministry said Tuesday that many health facilities recently disclosed plans to cut vacations following an increase in hospitalizations and COVID-19 cases. Under a ministerial decree issued in the first months of the pandemic, employers in the health sector can suspend, cancel or deny vacations in the event of an emergency.

Robert Maranda, a spokesperson for the Department of Health, said facilities in some regions, including Quebec and Montreal, have been particularly affected by the latest wave fueled by the Omicron variant, with many employees testing positive for COVID -19 or forced to self-isolate due to exposure to a positive case.

“The number of outbreaks and the absence of employees affected by COVID-19 are high,” Maranda said in a statement, adding that canceling vacations is a last resort.

But the Federation of Health and Social Services, one of the largest health unions in Quebec, said it was crucial to find other solutions. “The employees are at their wit’s end,” Union Vice-President Josée Marcotte said in a text. “They are doing all they can to slow down the pandemic.”

Jean-Thomas Grantham, spokesperson for Quebec’s main hospital network, the CHU de Quebec-Université Laval, confirmed in an email that 807 employees were in isolation as of Monday.

“We have been forced to suspend vacations for some of our employees due to the situation we are currently experiencing in our hospitals,” Grantham said. The local health authority said on Tuesday that the measure had affected around 15 employees since the decree was introduced in March 2020.

In north Montreal, the public health authority said it is currently short of 660 health care workers. Emilie Jacob, spokesperson for the CIUSSS du Nord-de-l’ÃŽle-de-Montréal, said that invoking the ministerial order would avoid an interruption of services. “This measure is exceptional, and we prefer that everything be done on a voluntary basis,” Jacob said in an email Tuesday, unable to confirm how many people might have their holidays suspended.

The public health authority in Laval, north of Montreal, said it was “very sorry” for the impact the measure would have on families and employees. Judith Goudreau, of the CIUSSS de Laval, said she canceled the vacations until the end of January for at least 30 employees in certain settings, such as long-term care homes. The Laval network said that as of Tuesday, it had 478 employees with COVID-19 and 52 others in administrative segregation.

In the Chaudière-Appalaches region, south of Quebec, the management indicated that it was managing the situation on a case-by-case basis, without forcing employees to cancel vacations. “Before using these measures, we call on employees who wish, on a voluntary basis, to work overtime or even increase their availability to work more hours per week,” he said in a statement.

But on social media, healthcare workers are talking about a system that is at the end of its rope, and Vézina said the frustration was rampant. “There comes a time when everyone is tired, and our understanding turns to anger,” she said. “This is the sad reality for many of us.”


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