Nurses rallied on the streets of Victoria today to highlight worker burnout, staffing shortages and suffering patient care in hospitals across the province.
Chants from sign-waving B.C. Nurses Union members were met with honks of support as the small noonday parade walked the roads bordering Mayfair Centre. Nurses chose the mall area to hit busy Douglas and Blanshard streets.
“We want to let the public know we are very concerned about our ability to give safe patient care due to the workload and a lack of staffing,” said Margo Wilton, co-chair BCNU for the south Island and a veteran 18-year nurse in Victoria.
“Nurses go full-out for their entire shifts. They aren’t able to give level of care each patent deserves and is entitled to. There just aren’t enough nurses.”
Managing too many patients for the level of staff is a consistent problem for nurses across all sectors of care, Wilton said, be it emergency centres, intensive care, surgery or residential elder care.
“It’s getting to a crisis point. Nurses give up breaks, work past the end of their shifts, do everything they can to ensure patents get the care they need,” she said. “It’s becoming unmanageable.”
The nurses’ contract with their employer, the Health Employers Association of B.C., expired at the end of March and bargaining has been ongoing since January. Nurses say they aren’t looking for pay raises, just improvements in working conditions.
Adriane Gear, a 17-year nurse and co-chair BCNU for the south Island, estimates the system needs 2,000 more nurses to plug the gaps, such as through creating more full time positions. B.C. has about 32,800 registered nurses, with 49 per cent full time, and the remainder are part time and casual.
“We need overtime and casual (shifts) shifted to permanent positions,” Gear said. “We need to adjust the staffing model."
Gear pointed to overcapacity at Royal Jubilee Hospital, for instance, where some recovering patients are housed in the emergency ward, which adds to the burden of emergency nurses.
“Nurses go an extra 10 miles a day to keep things running and safe. It’s not sustainable,” she said. “Burnout is huge concern.”
Health authorities and the Health Employers Association agree that workload is a challenge for nurses in some areas of care, and is a bargaining discussion point for the union.
But HEABC president Michael Marchbank said despite being talks since January, the nurses bargaining association hasn’t brought specific staffing or workload requests to the table.
“Workload is a major issue, but at this point there’s been no specific proposal,” Marchbank said. “(The nurses) indicate they will bring a proposal to the table. We are anxious to see what they have to say.”
Marchbank couldn’t say if there is room to fund more nurse positions, but noted there is “room for a modest wage increase,” as long as its found through cost savings elsewhere in the budget.
Nurses say negotiations are insufferably slow, but Marchbank said progress is happening.
“We have had constructive dialogue on a number of issues. We have had slow but steady progress,” he said.