The head of the BC Nurses Union says the province is not doing enough to support nurses during the pandemic.

BCNU president Christine Sorensen says across B.C., many of her colleagues are getting burned out.

“They’ve been faced with this pandemic, now, for over a year, and I’m very worried about the toll that this experience is taking on their mental health, Sorensen said.

“Nurses are increasingly feeling overwhelmed, unsupported and abandoned by their employer.”

Sorensen says for some time, now, the union has been calling on the province to address a nursing shortage in B.C.

“We have really seen very little interest in actually following through on that, and addressing the gaps which we know is, at least 25,000 more nurses will be needed in this province by 2030, according to the Auditor General of B.C.”  

In the short term, Sorensen says the Ministry of Health and health employers need to start working collaboratively with the union to address issues at the point of care.

“We are seeing significant shortages in our critical care areas like emergency, ICU, OR and more needs to be done to support the nurses that are working in those areas,” she added.

Sorensen said nurses also need “the appropriate” personal protective equipment to keep them safe, and “not the personal protective equipment that the minister of health thinks is sufficient, but what the nurse deems, based on their point of care risk assessment, that they need to keep themselves and their patients safe.”

Considering that COVID is spread through the airborne route, Sorensen said nurses need to have “unfettered access” to N95 masks, “and that continues to be restrictive.”

She’s also worried about hospitals bursting at the seams. Sorenson says North Island Hospital in Campbell River is running at 120 percent capacity.

“We know Comox is at about 111 percent,” she said. “The two North Island hospitals have been overcapacity since the day they opened.”

Sorensen believes the Ministry of Health’s surgical renewal plan, “while admirable,” is putting unacceptable stress on B.C.’s healthcare system. 

“Nurses are working enormous amounts of overtime, coming in on-call on their days off to support a number of surgeries that are not life-or-limb, that are elective surgeries and could be postponed until a period of time when we have less pressure related to COVID and the healthcare system.”

The other concern, Sorensen says, are outbreaks in acute care units in hospitals.

“They were occurring in long-term care, we seem to have put some control measures in place, but now what we’re seeing are outbreaks… in acute care sites around the province, where outbreaks are not well controlled,” Sorensen said.

“And that is very concerning as we see more nurses infected with COVID, contacts to COVID, or people who have to stay home to care for children or elderly family members who have also been identified as contacts to COVID or cases. So they are struggling, nurses, both personally and professionally, to meet the patient care needs in this province because there’s just not enough nurses.”

Sorensen said for every additional patient that a nurse has to take on beyond their normal level, it increases mortality by around seven percent.

She says there are not enough nurses to have eyes on all of the patients all of the time.

We are waiting for a response from the Ministry of Health.