As 2021 comes to a close, I look back not just on the year that has passed, but on the journey our members have endured since the COVID-19 pandemic began almost two years ago. When the virus arrived in January 2020, our province was already in the grip of a four-year-long opioid crisis and nurses in every sector of the health-care system were working under difficult practice conditions that have only worsened since.
Through it all, our members have gone above and beyond to provide care amid the uncertainty of the pandemic. You continue to work short-staffed in a system where you're exposed to trauma and violence, and often without access to the personal protective equipment you require.
The last year has been an unending emotional roller coaster of perseverance and concern.
This summer we were cautiously optimistic as COVID case numbers and hospitalizations began to decline and public-health restrictions were relaxed. COVID's fourth wave then hit us in the fall. Once again, our members rose to the occasion to care for their patients while trying to keep themselves, their co-workers and their loved ones safe.
Case numbers have dropped again, but we are now faced with the emergence of troubling new variants of concern that test our resilience and optimism that one day we'll see the light at the end of the tunnel.
The physical and psychological hazards our members are routinely exposed to were compounded by this year's unprecedented natural disasters, from June's devastating heat wave which triggered fires that destroyed entire communities – and which ultimately killed 595 British Columbians – to November's catastrophic flooding, which also claimed lives and cut the province in half.
I've been inspired by stories of nurses helping each other and their communities in the face of such adversity. This includes the ICU nurse whose team made their way to flood-ravaged Hope to help fly-out a critically injured pediatric patient, the nurse who pulled a family to safety after they had gone off the road in a mudslide, or the nurses from 100 Mile House who travelled to Merritt to care for patients and assist with the flooded town's evacuation.
Our members are resilient, but they are also exhausted and overworked. They are struggling with moral distress and burnout, and in the past two years their physical and mental well-being has been tested like no other time in recent history.
What does the future hold? And will 2022 be any different?
We've already begun laying the groundwork for a new collective agreement that could help bring some semblance of normalcy to our members' lives. The Nurses' Bargaining Association provincial collective agreement expires next April, and our negotiations with health employers and the provincial government will begin next spring.
This is your contract, and we've gathered your input through our 2021 NBA member bargaining survey and during our fall and winter regional bargaining strategy conferences. And our Provincial Bargaining Conference is fast approaching in March 2022, where attendees will elect BCNU's provincial bargaining committee.
I encourage you to get involved. Attend your regional meetings and let us know what's important to you – now, and in the future. Learn about the bargaining process and how you can support and participate in successful job action. Become a ward or unit rep to stay updated on progress and share information about staffing levels and working conditions on your own ward or unit.
Now is also the time for solidarity. We spend a significant amount of our lives at work with one another and keeping each other safe. We've become an integral part of each other's lives, so let's unite behind our common goal of safe staffing, fair wages and safe workplaces.
I want to wish all members the healthiest and safest of holidays, whether you celebrate Christmas, Kwanzaa or any of the other seasonal occasions honoured by our diverse membership. I would also like to thank all those nurses who are working through this holiday season. There will be long shifts, heavy caseloads and insufficient staff. Many of you will be away from warm homes and loved ones. Your dedication must not go unacknowledged.
I look forward to the possibilities of the New Year.
Aman GrewalPresident, BC Nurses' Union
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