‘Situation is dire’: B.C. nurse staffing shortages reaching crisis level, union says

Staffing shortages and hospital wait times are reaching crisis levels, according to the BC Nurses’ Union.

And it’s not just a problem in small towns, but here in Metro Vancouver too.

Adriane Gear, vice president of the BC Nurses’ Union says the situation is close to hitting a tipping point.

“It’s really gotten much worse, the situation is dire,” said Gear. “Many emergency rooms around the province, whether it’s a small community hospital or large urban center, there’s significant staffing challenges.”

“Not only is that leading to longer wait times, in some instances, [but] some emergency rooms are being temporarily closed overnight.”

Gear says that exact scenario happened in a health care facility on Vancouver Island, which was closed overnight for two weeks solid.

She says these staffing problems are not an isolated incident.

“In terms of impact on the Lower Mainland, even some of our large busiest emergency rooms in the province … all are dealing with staffing shortages, which is leading to much longer wait times, and nurses not being able to provide the care that the patients require.”

Gear recently visited a Lower Mainland ER to speak with its members, and found out they had around a 30 per cent vacancy rate.

“The staff that are coming to help out are actually not emergency room credentialed nurses.

“There’s just simply not enough staff. And the patients keep coming because they need they need care.”

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Gear explains that last year there were 4,300 vacant nursing positions in B.C. but fears that number is growing in 2022.

“I would say that is really just the tip of the iceberg,” she said. “We believe that the vacancy rate is actually much higher.”

Adding, “in the province of British Columbia, staffing levels on some units have been as low as 50 per cent. We know that it’s very rare for there to be a full complement of staff on any minute right now.”

Gear says going forward, the staffing shortages could get worse, going off data from polls.

“We did a survey of our members in May of 2021, which was over a year ago. And at that time, our members told us that 82 per cent of them are experiencing a deterioration in their mental health.

“We know that 35 per cent of our members were anticipating leaving in the next two years. And that actually went up to 51 per cent.”

She says going forward health authorities need to focus on retention, improving working conditions, and helping mentor new nurses coming into the workforce.

“Every day we know that we’re losing nurses If it was a different circumstance, if the working conditions were better, those nurses would have gladly stayed for another two to five years in the system. But they can’t physically and mentally do it anymore.

“As healthcare professionals, we have a license and an obligation to meet certain practice standards. And every day in this province, nurses are telling us that they simply are not meeting those standards.”

–With files from OMNI

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