B.C. nurses are calling on the provincial government to address the violence they’re facing at work and staffing shortages that are fueling widespread burnout amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The issues were made known this week at the British Columbia Nurses’ Union annual convention, which saw 500 nurses attend virtually.
“Nothing should go back to normal,” said union president and nurse Christine Sorensen, who noted the dual public health crises nurses are battling on the front lines of.
She said “normal wasn’t working” even prior to the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic and opioid crisis – both of which have threatened the lives of millions of people in B.C.
“If we go back to the way things were, we will have lost the lesson.”
Growing shortage of nurses
Nurses have begun to put pressure on their local legislators to implement the changes necessary to retain the number of nurses currently needed to address the patient demand at B.C. hospitals.
More than 1,400 workers have already made COVID-19 claims with WorkSafeBC and taken time off of work, Sorenson said, depleting the province’s shortening supply of nurses.
On top of that, 40 per cent of the nurses in B.C. are eligible to retire within the next four years and 60 per cent are showing early signs of post-traumatic stress disorder.
“Across the board, more nurses are becoming victims of more episodes of verbal, physical and sexual assault from ill and aggravated patients,” said Sorensen.
In 2019, an Abbotsford Regional Hospital (ARH) nurse was struck by a patient wielding a dumbbell.
“The nurse was assaulted so badly that they had to be assessed in the emergency room,” Sorensen said. The worker went on medical leave while she recovered from the attack.
21 B.C. ERs identified violence hot spots
That same year, the British Columbia Nurses’ Union worked to identify 21 hot spot emergency rooms where nurses experience the most violence, one was ARH.
Minister of Health, Adrian Dix, has so far “done nothing about it,” said Sorensen.
“The numbers of nurses going on sick leave, short-term illness or long-term disability because of injuries they face at work is baffling.”
The union is urging the ministry to implement patient safety officers in hospitals provincewide to deescalate patients showing potential signs of aggression.
“Health care workers need to be able to focus on the work they were trained to do,” Sorensen said.
Following successful trial runs at several hospitals, safety officers already exist and support health care workers in Kelowna and Victoria emergency rooms.
“Nurses are the life support of B.C.’s hospitals but many are giving up.”
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