Spring is normally a season of new beginnings and new possibilities. But we now find ourselves a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, and nurses, along with many other British Columbians, are exhausted and frustrated.
Nurses across BC are working incredibly hard, and I want to acknowledge your professional commitment in the face of mounting pressure, fear and anger. Over the past year you have endured extraordinary challenges that have taken an immense emotional toll.
Through it all, nurses have shown their value and strength, whether it’s caring for a patient who is newly diagnosed and scared, holding the hand of someone who is taking their last breath, or vaccinating the millions of British Columbians who are looking for hope – and we give them that hope. That’s the gift of nursing.
Now the hour is upon us as the third wave of the pandemic sees spiking case numbers and ICUs filling once more. Thankfully, vaccines will change the public-health landscape as more people are immunized. In the meantime, nurses’ collective action is needed to not only overcome the pandemic, but to call attention to a health-care system in crisis and that relies on nurses to function.The pandemic has shown that we need transparency from the government and health employers if we are serious about addressing the long-standing problems facing the system. Dr. Mary-Ellen Turpel Lafond made this reality clear in her November report In Plain Sight, a powerful review of Indigenous-specific racism in health care. She said the system needs to be more transparent if it is to truly serve patients. Nurses must be able to speak up, speak out and advocate on behalf of patients without fear of retribution.Confronting these multiple system crises means investing in all nursing disciplines and sectors, and supporting all nurses, whether they are working in research and education, in an ER or in community care. I’m proud of the research BCNU members have engaged in on behalf of their patients and colleagues and the perspective nurses bring to policy and decision makers.Nurses know. We have the solutions, and we need to be at the table. We brought your voice to the provincial government recently when we met with health minister Adrian Dix this April. We reminded him that nurses’ workloads remain unsustainable and unsafe, and are leading to increased stress, burn-out and growing rates of mental and physical injury.We said that nurses’ inability to provide basic patient care under current working conditions means they’re suffering an unprecedented degree of moral injury. They worry about jeopardizing their professional practice and being unable to meet their standards of care.Yet nurses remain committed to providing patient care at great risk to their own health and safety. We told the health minister that your clinical judgment must be respected when determining the safety precautions required for your work. And we said that the ministry and health employers must work to ensure nurses always have adequate and unfettered access to PPE, and that appropriate provincial stockpiles are maintained.We also told him it is vital to expand timely and accessible psychological supports for nurses using dedicated clinicians.Now it’s time for you to take action, speak up and speak out. Talk to your steward about the tools that are available in your contract to ensure safe practice and working conditions. Write a letter to your MLA or meet and tell them how the crisis has affected your working conditions and your patients.It’s all too easy to become hopeless in the midst of this pandemic. But action leads to hope, and hope is being able to see that there is light in spite of the darkness.
Christine SorensenPresident, BC Nurses' Union
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