Hospital staffing challenges are peaking with pandemic showing no end

CHEK

With the pandemic dragging on longer than many suspected, staffing challenges are at an all-time high at our Vancouver Island hospitals.

Nurses say every shift is understaffed and it’s leading to many considering an exit from the occupation.

“We don’t have enough staff. On any given day we’re two to three short. I’ve heard stories where girls show up to a unit and there’s one person so we’re in a dire situation,” said Bridie Cain, a licensed practical nurse for 16 years before retiring in 2019.

Cain says at both Royal Jubilee and Vic General morale is at an all-time low and she says many nurses are drowning and they’re not feeling heard.

“The pandemic certainly hasn’t helped. Nurses don’t have the proper PPE. They’re working short-staffed. They’re not able to care for their families. it’s horrific what’s happening,” said Cain.

The BC Nurses’ Union agrees staffing is a crisis situation.

“What’s new is that it’s affecting our large sites so much as well. It’s been happening in rural remote locations for a long long time and we’ve been raising that but it is actually all facilities that are working short across this province,” said Danette Thomsen, acting vice-president of the BC Nurses’ Union.

The B.C. government has cancelled some surgeries due to staffing shortages caused by unvaccinated workers placed on unpaid leave.

Thomsen says sickness, sometimes from COVID-19 has also been a factor heightening the staffing challenges now.

“We have nurses off with COVID long-haulers and we can’t afford to lose another nurse to COVID anywhere so nurses are sick. I have worked with nurses across the province who are sick who have been requested to come back because 10 days was up even though they were still sick,” said Thomsen.

There are currently 38 people in the Island Health region in hospital due to COVID-19 — a figure that is down slightly — 12 of whom are in critical care. Province-wide hospitalizations are down 25 per cent since Dec. 3.

Dr. David Forrest, an infectious disease specialist in Nanaimo, says coronavirus patients are really heightening the workload for overtaxed health-care workers.

“Patients that come into the ICU with COVID disease generally stay there for a long time so we have patients that are in the ICU for five, six weeks at a time. Most of the patients have a stay of seven to 10 days. These patients are staying much longer,” said Forrest.

For example, Forrest says 10 of the 14 patients in Nanaimo’s ICU have COVID-19 and will likely be there for days or even weeks. He says the vast majority of those in ICU are not vaccinated and that the situation is an incredible burden and taxing for already exhausted health-care workers.

“Frankly, we are all astonished that there are people who still don’t seem to understand that vaccines prevent serious illness and it is still very distressing when people tell us how afraid they are of dying, not realizing the disease was serious and is completely avoidable,” said Forrest.

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