The message from those on healthcare frontlines is clear: they are burnt out.
“I usually tell myself one day at a time, because that’s all we can do at this point,” said Eram Chhogala, a registered nurse in Toronto.
In British Columbia, health care providers are facing a pandemic, the opioid overdose crisis, and a staffing crisis that long predates both.
“We’ve been asking this question for weeks now. We’ve been asking it for decades. What is the plan for this nursing shortage? We haven’t gotten it,” said Aman Grewal, vice-president of the B.C. Nurses Union.
Now, as cases climb and concern grows over two potentially dangerous variants, B.C. is now making it mandatory for everyone working in health care settings to be vaccinated.
“We’ll be implementing a new order that makes vaccination against COVID-19 a condition of employment across all health care facilities in British Columbia. this includes all workers, students, physicians, residents, contractors, and volunteers who work in a health care facility,” said Dr. Bonnie Henry, the provincial health officer on Monday.
Those working in a health care setting who can’t get vaccinated for medical or religious regions can request an exemption and accommodations may be made.
But for those who don’t qualify and still choose to remain unvaccinated, is leave without pay.
Health officials say 80 per cent of nurses are vaccinated — meaning of the current 48,000 nurses in B.C., around 9,600 remain unvaccinated. Their union is concerned that losing a number like that, may crash the healthcare system.
“It would cripple health care in B.C.,” said Grewal.
But medical ethicists aren’t buying it.
“If one joins a medical profession, one has an obligation to take steps not to harm one’s patients,” said Eike-Henner Kluge, a biomedical ethicist at the University of Victoria. “Given the shortage of healthcare professionals, clearly they have an obligation to make sure that they themselves are able to exercise their profession.”
Today, Health Minister Adrian Dix addressed the northern healthcare worker crisis with a $6.38 million rural healthcare retention program. In other health districts, Dix says a plan is in the works if nurses choose to quit instead of getting vaccinated, but offered no tangible preparations.
“We’re going to have to prepare for circumstances for people to leave certain positions,” said Dix.
But with just weeks to go until the mandate begins, the B.C. Nurses Union says structural issue needs to be addressed province-wide, taking into the decade to come as well.
“By 2029, we need 24,000 nurses, and that’s only eight years away,” said Grewal.
They’re calling on the provincial government to expedite International nurses waiting for their Canadian credentials, increase the education and output of new nurses, and invest in recruitment.
For now, the government is hoping instead of leaving, healthcare workers choose to get vaccinated and stay.