BCNU highlights over-crowding at UHNBC
Debra McPherson kept it short but not sweet.
The BC Nurses Union president told a media conference Thursday at Coast Inn of the North that nurses are fed up with patient overcrowding and nurse understaffing at University Hospital of Northern British Columbia. Patients, nurses and the community are effected, she said.
"Nurses will not rest ... they will not take this" until their concerns are addressed, McPherson told reporters. She said that since her visit to UHNBC last August and her Nov. 8, 2010 meeting with Northern Health officials, there's been no progress and nothing positive to report.
"I would have been happy to come here today and say things have improved – but in fact they are quantitatively worse than they were... with more bad news to come." UHNBC nurses have made their complaints known, she said. They filed over 250 Professional Responsibility Forms (PRFs) in two years laying out their concerns for patient and staff safety. Nurses asked the union for help.
"We are looking at the (lengthy) PRF process and how to improve it," McPherson said. She noted that hospital administrators could help alleviate the situation by dealing with nurses' concerns on a daily basis. Some issues can be dealt with over time but staffing issues can not wait for resolve, she said. NH officials met with BCNU representatives Feb. 4 resulting in a joint steering committee formed to review existing concerns.
The new committee meets March 7.
McPherson says however she'd like to see actions that will have an "immediate impact" on patient care and staff workload.
"We are asking Northern Health Authority to implement some of our short-term solutions and not make patients and nurses wait for help they need right now."
The nurses solutions include: immediate temporary hiring of agency nurses, hiring of new graduate nurses, increased training of ER and ICU nurses, increased critical care and high acuity education for nurses, front line nurse and steward representation on the UHNBC Critical Care Working Group.
In the meantime, BCNU wants to raise awareness and propose solutions with a campaign called Safe Care Now which includes rallies, Wear Black T-shirt program, writing letters to local newspapers and lobbying politicians.
NHA communications director Steve Raper said Thursday they plan to continue working with nurses to try to resolve outstanding issues.
"We take patient concerns and quality of care very seriously – no matter who it comes from. It's a serious issue (and) when it comes from our nurses, we do listen and we will continue to work with them to find solutions," he said. "Nurses are a very important part of the work we do, they are a very important group. And absolutely, we want to keep the dialogue open and we will continue to move forward."
On the issue of nursing shortages and local hiring practises, Raper said Northern Health is proud of its hard work in this area and of the numbers of local graduates that find work in the region.
"We hired 115 graduates from nursing programs at UNBC and CNC and we'll hire more, maybe up to 100, for summer internships. We're quite pleased with the amount of home grown nurses we have here. We've reduced the demand for nurses and its helped us deal with the shortage of nurses."
Some nursing positions often require a wider search, he said.
"Where the complexity comes in is with more specialized fields like OR positions. We do ideally look from within and we also provide training at UHNBC to improve skills for some of those hard to fill positions. But we do have to go outside our region – and even our country sometimes – to fill speciality positions."
Raper said the Northern Health website will confirm unfilled job postings. McPherson agrees staffing shortages in the hospital's Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and critical care areas are of particular concern for nurses.
"It's not appropriate for a nurse to have to choose between two patients who both require her care," she said. Asked if she was aware of any incidents where understaffing could be linked to a patient's death, McPherson said,
"In the Fall there was at least one death that we feel is related to understaffing." However hospital bed shortages is another urgent issue that needs to be addressed, she said. "We have seen patients who live out their 12 day stay in hospital on a stretcher in the hallway, with no hospital bed (and no equipment)."