Vancouver healthcare workers question Ken Sim’s plan to hire 100 nurses

Healthcare workers are questioning Vancouver Mayor-elect Ken Sim's plan to hire 100 'mental health nurses' to work with new police officers. As Kier Junos reports, some RNs think the plan is unrealistic and full of holes.

Mayor-elect Ken Sim wants to hire 100 mental health nurses to work with 100 new police officers, but frontline healthcare workers say his plan is unrealistic and full of holes.

Maddie Beaumont is a registered nurse who works in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, and wonders where Sim is going to find people to fill the extra positions he’s proposing.

“The teams I work for struggle to maintain baseline staffing,” Beaumont told CityNews. “Currently you’d be hard-pressed to find a city organization that hired nurses. So I would definitely love to know which health authority would take on this plan.”

“I feel like a lot of pieces are missing in this,” she said. “Are they going to be hired on as a [registered psychiatric nurse]? A [nurse]? What are the credentials?”

Read More: A closer look at Vancouver mayor-elect Ken Sim’s promises

Psychiatric nurse Christine Gower agrees staffing would be a challenge with Sim’s plan,

“I just wonder about the utility of it all, and what the accomplishments are that the mayor is trying to achieve. Because I am not sure how that’s going to fix the problems that we have. Our problems are much more complex and broad spectrum,” she said.

Gower adds she doesn’t think health care should be mixed with policing.

“When we’re talking about hiring 100 of each profession and pairing them up, that just to me, I call it ‘militarization of health care’,” she said.

She explains the concept of militarization as, “Having…your own care that you’re trying to provide influenced by an organization that is entitled to use force.”

She notes one of the main differences between the police and healthcare is how staff are trained.

“We are there to treat the patient, whereas the police have a different mandate. They have a mandate to protect the public. So, while we’re focused on the individual, they’re focused on the broad spectrum of what’s going on around them.”

The BC Nurses Union also has questions about where Sim will find the nurses and how they will be deployed.

President Aman Grewal says staffing at emergency rooms is already thin, and she also wonders where the extra bodies will come from.

“Hopefully, [Sim] is not going to be pulling from our acute care facilities, community facilities where we already have them working, and leaving them even more short,” she told CityNews.

Grewal adds that although she would love to see this accomplished, she has a lot of questions about the feasibility of the plan.

“This is necessary in our city just in terms of the mental health, addictions, homelessness, that is taking place in Vancouver. So I would love to hear…how he plans to implement that [and] what resources he’s able to provide and access.”

Sim gives few details on plan

During his first press conference as mayor-elect on Monday, Sim was asked for more details on his proposal.

“What we’ll do is we’ll provide funding and resources,” he said, adding it is still to be determined where the new hires will come from.

“Those are details we’ll leave to the City of Vancouver and the Vancouver Police Department,” he said.

Sim said his plan will expand on the Vancouver Police Department’s Car 87 program. Police say the program pairs a plainclothes officer with a Vancouver Coastal Health worker to respond to low-risk mental health calls and reduce unnecessary hospital admissions.

The VPD couldn’t grant CityNews’ request for data on Car 87. The department’s own report describes its success based on the fact that other police agencies have adopted the model.

The report says Car 87 clients continue with other mental health programs and show a decrease in violent crime, mental health apprehensions, criminal justice system involvement, and more.

Read More: Vancouver Mayor-elect Ken Sim unclear about mental health nurse hiring details

But for nurses like Beaumont, she won’t be convinced expanding the program is the right decision – until she sees more evidence.

“My colleague and I…we both did university library searches for any quick evidence on Car 87, Car 88, and its efficacy. And we were unable to find a single article. So I am hard-pressed to say that that’s evidence-based,” she said.

Ken Sim and his council will officially be sworn into office on Nov. 7.

With files from Martin MacMahon.

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