Nurses rally in Vancouver to demand safer working conditions

Hundreds of nurses have gathered in downtown Vancouver to protest unsafe working conditions in health care facilities across the province. This comes after a survey revealed a high number of violent incidents ranging from verbal to physical abuse.

Hundreds of nurses from across B.C. gathered in downtown Vancouver Thursday to protest unsafe working conditions in healthcare facilities across the province.

The rally comes after a survey revealed a high number of violent incidents ranging from verbal to physical abuse, and exposure to illicit drugs while on the job.

The BC Nurses’ Union says it recently became the first jurisdiction within Canada to negotiate minimum nurse-to-patient ratios with its provincial government.

BC Nurses’ Union president Adriane Gear says the ratios will help ensure that nurses aren’t overworked, saying that’s just one of the conditions that make their jobs harder and drive nurses away.

Gear said Statistics Canada reported over 5,000 nurse vacancies currently in B.C.

“And we know, based on our recent survey, that over 35 per cent of nurses tell us that they actually want to leave the profession, and some have made plans to do so. We also know that we’ve lost many nurses from this system either to early retirement — new graduate nurses that enter the system and because of working conditions leave — We’ve also lost mid-career nurses and [nurse-to-patient] ratios is the most important policy solutions to turn this around.”

Gear said the nurses rallied to demand that the government improves other on-the-job conditions that could undermine the ratios.

“Nurses are exposed to violence, verbal abuse … 93 per cent of respondents say that they work routinely short staffed. We also know that nurses are exposed to illicit substances and other workplace hazards. Our fear is that the health authorities — because they’re not holding the importance on their safety that they should — could potentially derail minimum nurse-patient ratios,” said Gear.

“We might be able to recruit nurses but we’re not gonna be able to retain them if working conditions don’t improve.”

According to the union, about 40 per cent of B.C. nurses are exposed to weapons, and 60 per cent are exposed to illicit drugs. As well, it says more than half have been subjected to physical violence.

Baljit Fajardo, a maternity nurse who specializes in working with pregnant women who have substance-abuse challenges, says she’s been physically hurt by patients.

“It’s traumatizing and scary,” Fajardo said. “But we have to continue to do our work and support our patients, so it adds to our trauma.”

At a press event Thursday, B.C.’s Health Minister Adrian Dix responded to the rally, saying the provincial government is working to improve safety conditions for nurses.

“We have put in place 320 relational security officers. This had been a recommendation two years ago by the BCNU,” said Dix.

“We said they’d be in place in a year, and they are. So we have to continue — and we will continue — to add staff to make all of our staff but also our patients safer in our hospitals to ensure that rules around around the hospital and the safety of staff and the safety of patients are followed and we are taking those steps now.”

Gear said she wants Dix to know she appreciates where the province is at in terms of ratio legislation, but needs the government to “hold health authorities accountable and make sure that [nurse-to-patient ratios] are going to be successful.”

—With files from Michael Williams

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