BC Nurses’ Union pushes back against premier’s claim health-care is improving

With cracks in the health-care system seemingly becoming deeper, B.C. Premier David Eby claims things are improving.

He says things are looking up when it comes to fixing the issues plaguing hospitals, doctor’s offices, and long-term care homes. Eby adds the province has hundreds of new staff arriving in B.C.

“Especially around the situation faced by internationally-trained doctors and nurses. We have hundreds more nurses on hospital floors… coming from an international background, than we did this time last year because of changes we made with the College of Nurses,” he told CityNews.

Eby says the other part of the improvement plan is building more facilities, pointing to upgrades at Surrey Memorial Hospital (SMH), an expansion at Richmond General Hospital, and a redevelopment at Burnaby General Hospital.

He says they’re also recruiting more paramedics, who have been dealing with a severe staff shortage for years. Eby admits with many frontline health-care workers on leave, burnt out, or retiring, it’s not easy to get staffing levels where they need to be.

“It is a huge challenge in our province, with the growth of our province versus the shrinking of the number of health professionals. It will be some time until we’re back to full speed on this.”

“We added 250,000 people to our province in the last two years and at the same time we saw a significant number of health-care workers retire.”

Eby says a recent $1.2 billion deal signed with Ottawa is good, but it’s not enough money over three years to fix the system entirely.

“In terms of the expansion of the health-care system, we’re probably outspending that money about four-to-one provincially. It’s welcomed, but we do need the feds to continue to be at the table. It’s not enough [money], given the population growth we’re seeing… and I’m not expecting to see significant additional resources from the federal government at this time.”

Eby says another problem is other provinces are poaching B.C.-based health-care workers.

“It is a serious issue. So, we signed a very good agreement with our nurses. I know it was a concern to other provinces, given that B.C. is now, in my opinion, the best place to work as a nurse in Canada. I know other provinces have been trying to recruit cancer-care specialists from British Columbia as well.”

But that comment isn’t sitting well with the BC Nurses’ Union (BCNU), with the premier thinking B.C. is the best place to work as a nurse.

Adriane Gear is president of the BCNU, and she says funding or not, nothing has changed on the frontlines. Adding nurses are overworked, overwhelmed, and facing a critical staffing shortage.

“We have 5,825 documented vacancies within the B.C. health-care system — that’s permanent vacancies. That doesn’t take into account people on leave, maternity leaves, etc. We are still in a state of crisis.”

She says despite that, the union feels “encouraged” by the provincial commitment to nurse-to-patient ratios. Right now, nurses are taking on more patients than they can manage, which can affect care.

Gear says waiting a long time to be assessed or to receive the care needed is the new norm.

“We continue to be challenged with not having enough staff to deliver the care. The emergency room situation is concerning. Many emergency rooms are overflowing with patients and there’s certainly long times to be assessed. That is due, partly, to not having enough nurses, but there’s also not enough primary care providers.”

She adds a lack of hospital beds is also creating problems.

“Unfortunately, we are seeing patients waiting for long periods of time in emergency room hallways. It is not uncommon for patients that to be monitored, to be cared for in an emergency room setting… so they do, in some instances, spend a day, two, three, four days — that can definitely happen.”

Gear isn’t sure how long the current situation will hold.

“Unfortunately, around this province, we have many work environments that my members would characterize as unsupportive and frankly, toxic. And nurses are suffering from compassion fatigue.”

Gear says the next step is to hold the province responsible for nurse-patient ratios.

“Are we optimistic about the promise of ratios? Do we know that’s the right thing? Do I feel like the government is truly committed to that? Yes. But in the meantime, the health authorities have to step up, they have to provide safe, quality work environments. Stop the bleed of nurses. Do everything you can to treat them with respect and retain them.”

With files from John Ackermann

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