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B.C. nurses nearing collapse under weight of pandemic, lacking PPE access, says union

Last Updated Dec 9, 2020 at 8:12 am PST

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B.C.'s nurses are burning out as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to take a toll on the health care system: union

Nurses often face verbal abuse, back to back shifts, long hours, and PPE shortages, the BC Nurses Union says

Nurses union is calling on B.C. for better mental health supports, more transparency around PPE, additional workers

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – With hundreds of COVID-19 patients in hospital — many of them critical — the BC Nurses Union says widespread pandemic fatigue is leaving our frontline workers vulnerable.

From their mental health to personal safety, nurses are dealing with a number of stresses, according to the BCNU.

“They’re working extended, long shifts, they’re picking up enormous amounts of overtime,” union president, Christine Sorensen, explains, adding nurses are lucky if they get a break and there has been a serious shortage of nurses since before the pandemic.

She says many nurses end up coming in on their days and hours off to help treat patients. Those working on call find themselves at work more often than not.

“The health employers are desperate for nursing staff. Nurses are exhausted and they’re burning out,” Sorensen tells NEWS 1130, adding a BCNU board member who has been out of clinical practice for 19 years is being called in for frontline shifts.

Increased conflict with public

As the health crisis drags on, she says nurses also feel like they’ve lost the public support that was once on loud display in the form of nightly cheers.

“Nurses are very distressed that they’re not feeling the support from the public. And the greatest sign of support could be the public following the public health measures and staying home, reducing the contacts, wearing a mask, washing their hands, all of those things that we know reduces the spread of this virus,” Sorensen says.

In addition to asking people to do their part to help bring COVID-19 transmissions down, Sorensen is calling for more nurses to be brought in to help ease the workload.

Some nurses without proper PPE

Sorensen notes nurses also have difficulties in accessing personal protective equipment while at work in some facilities.

“It’s either locked up or inaccessible. They have to often ask their managers or go seek out in some other part of the hospital, which takes away from patient care. And then those nurses are often at being asked to wear personal protective equipment for extended periods of time beyond what is considered safe or normal in our regular course of practice.”

She believes there’s been a lack of transparency from the Ministry of Health, despite promises of additional PPE.

There are currently more than 9,000 active cases of COVID-19 across the province. As of Tuesday afternoon, 352 people were in hospital due to the coronavirus, with 74 people in intensive care.

Many nurses have had to treat patients isolated from their families and support systems, guiding patients through the final hours of their lives.

Sorensen says all this takes an emotional toll.

“The stress of constantly working in an environment where you’re at risk of being infected, where you do not get the opportunity to take a break,” she explains.

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“It’s extremely hard on nurses’ mental health. And I’m very concerned about the ability of our nurses to, you know, carry on for the next few months through this without some sort of support from the public in order to reduce the numbers of cases are being admitted to acute care.”

She also wants to see investments into mental health supports for all health-care workers.

“We know that this is going to be a really difficult time through this pandemic … and I do ask the government, regularly, why they continue to push large numbers of patients through the surgical renewal program, when the nurses who are working in the operating rooms and our surgical unit are very overworked right now, very distressed on their inability to provide good quality care for patients that are coming through the door because COVID patients are creating enormous demand on our system right now.”