B.C. nurses struggling with shortage of staff and protective equipment, union president says

As cases of COVID-19 surge in B.C., the president of the provincial nurses union says her members are facing increased numbers of patients without enough personnel or protection.

According to the B.C. Nurses’ Union (BCNU), the province had done little to address a nursing shortage before the pandemic hit and now the second wave of the virus is taking its toll on already burned-out staff. 

Union president Christine Sorensen says not only are nurses over-worked, they are also currently under-supplied with critical personal protective equipment (PPE) needed to keep them safe on the job.

On Monday, Dr. Bonnie Henry announced almost 2,000 new cases of the virus province-wide. Sorensen says of the new cases being detected, about one in 10 is related to health-care workers and, of those, about 18 per cent are nurses.

“That tells me a significant number of nurses are either off sick or are isolating because of COVID,” said Sorensen on The Early Edition on Tuesday.

Registered nurse Liana Perruzza puts on PPE at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver in April. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)

In February, after the B.C. budget was announced, Sorensen expressed her disappointment in a statement about a “lack of investment for the current and future nursing workforce.”

Sorensen said then that at least 25,000 new nurses needed to be hired over the next 10 years to keep up with rising health-care demands in B.C.

That was before nurses were faced with caring for people with COVID-19.

“We are prioritizing and getting to the care needs as quickly as possible, but we are struggling under a nursing shortage in this province and we have been for a long time,” said Sorensen.

The union president is also worried about adequately protecting the nurses the province does have. 

She said nurses are still having difficulty accessing N95 masks and “the PPE they deem necessary to keep themselves safe,” and is calling on the government to make sure they have what they need.

“Every day they go to work facing the fact that they too might become infected,” said Sorensen.

On Monday, the provincial government said it is currently testing new shipments of PPE to make sure they meet B.C. requirements for the health-care system.

Over the past week, almost 50,000 N95 or equivalent respirator masks, 352,250 surgical masks, over one million pairs of gloves, 1,325 pieces of eye protection and about 700,000 gowns have arrived in B.C.

The latest COVID-19 numbers in the province indicate the health-care system currently has 181 people in hospital, with 57 in critical or intensive care.

To hear the complete interview with Christine Sorensen on The Early Edition, tap the audio link below:

The Early Edition0:00Nurses stressed under a very difficult time

B.C. Nurses Union president Christine Sorensen speaks with Stephen Quinn about the added pressure nurses are under this pandemic. 0:00

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