MONTREAL -- Part-time nurses at the Jewish General Hospital are being told to extend their hours to help deal with an influx of COVID-19 patients.

The Jewish General has been designated as a COVID-19 treatment. As the pandemic began in March, the hospital unveiled its dedicated coronavirus quarantine unit.

But a spokesperson for the regional health authority in charge of the hospital said staff is being stretched thin by a nursing shortage, especially as other units continue to require staffing amid the pandemic.

“Cancer didn't stop and the needs for surgery didn't stop,” said Lucie Tremblay. “We were able to put it in brackets for a few weeks in the spring, but we are not able to do that forever.”

Hospital management has hired more nurses and has also told nurses to take on more hours.

“We have a little bit more than 150 more nurses on our staff, so that's helping,” said Tremblay. “But there's only so many nurses on the market. To train a highly skilled nurse takes many years.”

The hospital's nurses union said moving part-time nurses to full-time hours is an abuse of the province's emergency decree and one that won't necessarily fill the gaps created by COVID-19.

“The burden is always put on the healthcare professional,” said FIQ vice-president Denyse Joseph. “Some people take care of their parents. They don't look at that, but we're human beings, too.”

Joseph added that if current conditions remain, it could cause some nurses to leave the profession.

Tremblay said hospital management is aware that nurses are working under difficult circumstances and called for the public to help lighten their load.

“I'm begging the population to please respect the directives of public health,” said Tremblay. “This is the best way that we have to protect our nurses.”