“Nurses are natural leaders.” I’ve said this before and I’m proud to say it again as I witness BCNU members rising to the challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic. A second wave of infections has seen our hospitals and ICUs begin to fill once again, but every day nurses are doing their best in a health-care system that had you understaffed and overworked even before the pandemic hit.
The invaluable contributions nurses are making to confront the crisis can be seen with the recent public health orders expanding our scope of practice and authorizing RPNs and RNs to prescribe pharmaceutical alternatives to toxic street drugs. This is an important part of the solution to addressing the province’s deadly opioid crisis, especially as deaths from accidental poisoning continue to climb.
Meanwhile, nurses are stepping up to help reduce the surgical backlog created when operating rooms across the province were shut down this spring. But the health ministry's surgical renewal plan presumes all OR nurses in BC can work full time and that all new grads hired this year are competent enough to work in the OR.
All of these measures press on the capacity of the system and nurses' ability to cope while we struggle to get through a difficult winter as COVID cases increase. They also speak to the need for a provincial health human resources plan specific to nursing if we want to avoid the downward spiral of exhaustion, depression, burnout and reduced retention rates that inaction will inevitably bring.
I want to thank all of you for your perseverance and commitment in the face of the tragedy COVID-19 has brought this year. I know you are stepping up and we are committed to ensuring you're supported. We are one step closer to finalizing the Nurses' Bargaining Association Patient Care Assessment Process with provincial health employers. More details will be provided in the coming weeks about the interim assessment tool that was determined though a mediation arbitration award in late November.
Your occupational health and safety has never been more important. We continue to support members through our Member Safety and Support Phone Line and provide education on workplace health and safety rights. Please remember to contact your steward or call the support line if you have any questions or concerns about staying safe during the pandemic.
The Public Health Agency of Canada's release of new federal guidelines confirming airborne transmission of the coronavirus validate nurses repeated calls for airborne precautions, including N95 respirators or better, when caring for COVID-19 patients. Health employers have an obligation to follow the precautionary principle and provide nurses and other health-care workers with unfettered access to the personal protective equipment they deem necessary to keep themselves and their patients safe.
This fall saw two of our own elected to the BC Legislature. I would like to congratulate fellow nurses Susie Chant and Harwinder Sandhu on winning their ridings of North Vancouver-Seymour and Vernon-Monashee. This gives us hope that our voices will be heard and changes will be made to improve our workings lives and the lives of our patients.
Our hopes were also raised recently when we witnessed the election of Kamala Harris as vice-president of the United States – the first woman and the first Black or South Asian person elected to the office. Her win will surely inspire more young women of colour in Canada to engage in politics and run for office.
As we say goodbye to 2020 and look ahead to 2021, there are more glimmers of hope on the horizon with the announcement of successful clinical trials of several COVID-19 vaccines, which brings the possibility that a working vaccine could be available early next year.
This year BCNU said goodbye to many council members who will no longer be serving on the union's top governing body. Some are retiring, and some will continue to be active in their regions, and I thank them all for their tireless service and dedication to advancing nurses' workplace rights and practice conditions.
I would like to thank all of you this winter for being there when patients need it most. Many of you will be working through the holidays away from warm homes and loved ones. Your dedication must not go unacknowledged.
I wish you all the best this holiday season and share your hopes for a brighter New Year.
Christine SorensenPresident, BC Nurses' Union
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