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B.C. nurses rally to demand action with health-care system ‘in a state of crisis’

‘Traumatic’: nurses cite overcrowded ERs, drastic staffing shortfalls and extended waits for care
Nurses march along Boundary Avenue outside Nanaimo Regional General Hospital on Thursday, Nov. 24. (Photo courtesy Kath Kitts)

Nurses marched past Vancouver Island’s busiest ER Thursday as part of rally to draw attention to a health-care system in crisis.

About 200 nurses from around the Island attended a B.C. Nurses’ Union rally outside Nanaimo Regional General Hospital on Nov. 24.

Kelley Charters, council member with the union, said the rally was intended to send a “loud and clear message” to the government and the health authority.

“The health-care system is in a state of crisis, nurses are burning out, exhausted, and we are demanding some action now,” she said.

Charters said hospitals are at 150 per cent capacity and staffing levels are sometimes as low as 50 per cent of what they should be. NRGH’s emergency room, the busiest on the Island, sees more than 230 patients per day, said Charters, with 40 patients there at a time some days. She said people sometimes wait six hours for life-saving medications, and children can wait as long as 10 hours for care.

“Primary care is not accessible, mental health services aren’t accessible and so all those patients come to the ER. It’s really the canary in the coal mine…” she said. “When all the other systems fail, we see all those patients in the emergency room.”

Charters has talked to nurses already tears before their shifts at the thought of what they’re going to walk into. She said it’s “traumatizing” for nurses to know what patients need but seeing those patients face extended wait times.

“Their parents, their kids, their family, themselves, they live in these communities and have to access health care too and they’re really afraid it’s not going to be there for them when they need it,” Charters said.

She worries about what it will mean for the community, and not just Nanaimo – she pointed to urgent care closures and short-staffing in other places on the mid Island and the north Island. She said employers have a retention problem and said more respect and dignity for nurses would be one solution – nurses should be part of more decision-making, she said, and she also thinks different approaches to scheduling, new incentives, and access to mental health supports would improve the status quo.

“We’ve predicted that this crisis was coming for decades,” Charters said. “There’s definitely enough blame, so to speak, to go around.”

The B.C. Nurses’ Union has launched a campaign website and encourage members of the public to visit for more information.

Provincial and territorial health ministers from across Canada met earlier this month to discuss a range of health-care issues including human resource challenges.

“They reviewed the work underway across jurisdictions to capitalize on the training and recruitment of local health professionals, and to better enable the recruitment and licensure of internationally educated health professionals as one important opportunity for progress. They also discussed immediate actions and solutions underway, such as enhancing and modifying scopes of practice, including strategies to retain the existing health workforce…” noted a press release from the B.C. Ministry of Health. “In addition, the ministers recognized the importance of working on collective priorities to develop Canada’s capacity to train health professionals in order to meet health service demand over the coming decade.”

READ ALSO: B.C. has plan to cancel surgeries to make room for flu cases in overcrowded hospitals

READ ALSO: Federal government prepared to increase health transfers

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About the Author: Greg Sakaki

I have been in the community newspaper business for two decades, all of those years with Black Press Media.
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